Not cuddly, but 'ag shame'

15 May 2015 - 02:19 By Shaun Smillie


You don't say "Ahhh" when you look at them and they're not that cuddly, but today is Endangered Species Day and it is time to remember the "ugly" animals that face extinction in South Africa. One of them is the sungazer, a lizard found predominantly in the Free State that grows to about 20cm.It seldom gets a mention but it is reputed to be JRR Tolkien's inspiration for the dragon Smaug in his fantasy The Hobbit.Unlike most lizards, the sungazer lives in burrows, and this is one of the reasons for its vulnerability. The population is in decline, according to the Endangered Wildlife Trust, because the grasslands in which the lizards excavate their homes are being turned into farmland.The reptile is also threatened by illegal capture for the pet trade and for muti making.Sungazers have not been bred successfully while in captivity."Most of our programmes involve working with land- owners to get them to set aside habitat for these animals," said Lillian Mlambo, the communications and brand manager for EWT.Another not-so-cuddly endangered species is the delicate leaf-folding frog of KwaZulu-Natal.As with most endangered animals, human encroachment is pushing them from their habitat."Should we be worried that frogs are disappearing?"The short answer is that they are extremely beneficial, mostly through the role they play in maintaining equilibrium in the environment," said EWT threatened amphibians programme manager Jeanne Tarrant."Frogs, unfortunately, are usually perceived as having little value because of ingrained negative cultural beliefs and folklore, and the fact that frogs are not as cute as pandas and suchlike."A recent addition to the endangered list is the secretary bird, a once common sight on South Africa's grasslands.These birds, too, are being displaced because of habitat destruction.The oribi is probably the cutest of the bunch. Besides habitat loss, this small antelope is under threat because of illegal hunting."If the oribi goes extinct in South Africa it will indicate that the grasslands that provide fresh water to Durban and the urban centres on the east coast have been transformed," said Endangered Wildlife Trust grasslands specialist Ian Little.But there is a positive side to all this, said Mlambo. Increasingly landowners have come out in support of the trust and its programmes.With their help, she believes, the threatened animals can be saved.

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