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Indigenous Zulu and Bapedi sheep have been moved to Johannesburg Zoo's Ruitkuil conservation farm in Parys, where breeding will be promoted to protect their genetic material and bloodlines.

THE purity of indigenous sheep is threatened, and over the years their genetic material has been weakened by interbreeding with imported species.

Yet indigenous species are better able to adapt to the harsh environmental conditions of the area and tolerate both external and gastrointestinal parasites as well as tick-borne diseases – traits which will be increasingly important given the grim future painted by climate change experts. The Long-term Adaptation Scenarios Phase One reports, released by the Department of Environmental Affairs on 5 November, unpack the effects of projected changes in temperature, rainfall and extreme events such as floods and storms. They are expected to affect water resources, biodiversity, health and agriculture.

It is believed that climate change will cause biodiversity loss, which in turn will reduce our ability to adapt to climate change. A step in the right direction is to maintain and rebuild ecological infrastructure in vulnerable systems, ecosystem-based adaptation and expansion of protected areas using climate-resilient approaches.

Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo (JCPZ) is on to it, and has relocated some of its indigenous sheep to its Ruitkuil conservation farm in Parys as part of attempts to preserve their lineage. JCPZ hoof stock keeper Hilton Nemutamvuni explains that the decision to relocate five Zulu and five Bapedi sheep to the breeding facility was to strengthen the bloodlines of these two species. "The pure bloodline of the sheep existence is threatened. In order to preserve the lineage and increase pure blood numbers, we are moving the animals to Ruitkuil where they will enjoy more space."

Zulu and Bapedi sheep are native to South Africa, and together with Swazi sheep are types of Nguni. They are primarily used as a source of food and income by farmers. Their populations started dwindling as they started mating with other species that arrived from overseas, and their bloodline and genetic diversity was affected. "Over the course of history, the Nguni and Bapedi sheep have been bred with European sheep strains and other breeds and this has resulted in a few thoroughbred Nguni species remaining," says Nemutamvuni.

Nguni sheep are mainly found in KwaZulu-Natal and Swaziland and are highly adaptable to the harsh environmental conditions of the area. They tolerate parasites as well as tick-borne diseases. The species is small, multi-coloured and fat-tailed. There are distinguishable by their small mouse-like ears and have good foraging abilities and can walk long distances.

They migrated to South Africa with the Nguni people between 200 and 400 AD down the eastern coast to the areas where they are still found today. According to South African Indigenous Breeds, the Nguni are fertile with excellent mothering ability – ewes are very protective of their young. They are adapted to a hot, humid environment and their normal production environment is hot, humid coastal bushveld to hot dry bushveld.

Bapedi are fat-tailed sheep that arrived in South Africa between 200 and 400 AD with the Bapedi people, who migrated southwards into what is today northern South Africa, and settled in the area south of the Soutpansberg. Bapedi sheep vary in colour, but most commonly are white with a red-brown head. The fat tail is usually long and varies in shape.

The Bapedi, according to South African Indigenous Breeds, is a hardy, heat and parasite-tolerant sheep for the semi-arid bushveld. It is a small-framed naturally polled sheep with a flat shallow body and long legs. It is extremely hardy with good foraging ability and an easy gait. It has good fertility and mothering ability – the ewes will defend their young at all costs.

The normal production environment is sub-tropical bushveld to semi-arid savannah.