Byline: Kelebogile Masemola

04 August 2022

The Minister of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment Ms Barbara Creecy, joined by board members of South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and management visited the National Zoological Gardens (NZG) of South Africa at Pretoria on Thursday 04 August 2022, to review the facility’s contribution to biodiversity, research, scientific services, animal welfare, conservation, tourism, and public awareness.

The Minister’s visit was welcomed by the Chairperson of the SANBI Board, Professor Edward Nesamvuni, as it afforded the Minister the opportunity to gain greater insights into SANBI’s cutting edge foundational research and scientific services, particularly those activities that contribute positively on policy action, wildlife regulatory services and associated enforcement and compliance.

“SANBI’s work on research and scientific services which include genetics and DNA profiling, veterinary services, and the Biobank contributes significantly to biodiversity information, species conservation, biodiversity and health, and the wildlife economy, as well as combating wildlife crime,” said Minister Barbara Creecy.  

During her visit, the Minister had the opportunity to see facilities which include the state of the art equipment used for the development of marker-based systems to advance genomic research at the Centre for Conservation Science.

The work includes Next-Generation Sequencing, developing genetic approaches to conducting phylogenetic assessments (using full mitochondrial genomes or regions of nuclear and mitochondrial sequence) within and among taxa, in order to understand evolutionary processes, and patterns as well as to identify species, units within species, management units or cryptic species.

Outcomes of this process are valuable in ensuring informed conservation measures for species that are subjected to a variety of threats.

Minister Creecy with the board members of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI)

In the Genetics Services Unit, the Minister saw the tools, technologies and guidelines that are applied in wildlife forensics and are used to expand DNA wildlife databases to ensure effective compliance, defensible and credible forensic testing to mitigate wildlife crime and contribute to the management of wildlife trade.

“Through research, novel genetic tools are applied for the identification of hybrids in a variety of wildlife species with model thresholds for genetic testing,” explained Professor Ramagwai Sebola, Chief Director: Foundational Biodiversity Science at SANBI.

“This is a service rendered to SANParks, provincial conservation authorities/agencies and to the wildlife industry to maintain the genetic integrity and to inform the genetic status of wildlife populations.”

The Minister also visited the animal hospital and veterinary unit which handles animal operations and post-mortems using high technology equipment.

During the visit, the Minister was given a tour of the facilities that demonstrate SANBI’s commitment to a One Health approach which focuses on the distribution, prevalence and epidemiology of pathogens and the development of a database in order to assess risks and impact to develop response strategies for wildlife disease threats.

The visit included the Biobank where biological materials are conserved for future research and decision making that contributes to species conservation.

In line with the commemoration of the inaugural Marine Protected Areas Day, on 1 August 2022, the Minister visited the aquarium, the largest inland aquarium in South Africa, and reiterated the importance of protecting marine ecosystems for ecological, social and economic purposes.