Xavier Zylstra is a senior teacher at the Environmental Education Centre. He joined the Aquarium in April 2009 after 21 years as a high school biology teacher. He presents lessons about various environmental topics and special animals kept in the Discovery Centres to visiting groups of all ages, along with the other members of our dynamic team.
After an invitation for the Two Oceans Aquarium to present on an endangered animal at the Western Province Preparatory School’s environmental awareness expo, and realising that some of our favourites like sharks and penguins were already being dealt with, we decided to introduce learners at the expo to the plight of amphibians, especially our own western leopard toad.
I was a bit daunted by the prospect of a presentation to 100 Grade 4 and 5 boys on a topic I was not familiar with, especially as I was allocated an hour! I started teaching in our Environmental Education Centre (EEC) after the Frogs: Beyond the Pond hype had died down, and was not sufficiently equipped to “pop over and do a quick presentation”…
With help from other EEC staff and Two Oceans Aquarium Sustainability and Communications Manager Helen Lockhart, I was brought up to speed on this fascinating topic and able to share my new-found information with a very bright-eyed and enthusiastic audience, who seemed moderately interested in the general information on amphibians. But they really became quite animated when the discussion moved, literally, to our backyards.
Brief mention was made of the Table Mountain ghost frog and the Cape micro-frog, along with the introduction of the word “endemic”, and then the focus moved to Teddy the Tongueless Toad and friends.
The boys were particularly fascinated to hear about practical measures we can take to look after our western leopard toads, like building toad abodes in the garden, shade cloth amphibian ladders in swimming pools and drains, and being especially aware of their need to migrate and cross busy roads during the late stages of winter.
I believe the environmental awareness expo was a great success and that the boys learnt a great deal of practical information. Hopefully other schools will take a similar initiative. I really enjoyed learning about our beleaguered amphibians and was thrilled to be able to pass on that information to a responsive audience. Thank you to Western Province Preparatory School for their initiative and for their invitation to the Aquarium.