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Johannesburg school pupils were treated to informative talks on environmental and rhino conservation and a tour of the Animals of the Amazon exhibit at the Joburg Zoo for World Environment Day.

Children listening attentively to Green Wall of Africa  Chairperson Irene Huysamen speak about the importance of saving rhinosChildren listening attentively to Green Wall of Africa Chairperson Irene Huysamen speak about the importance of saving rhinosSCHOOL children from across Johannesburg were encouraged to be vigilant and fight against illegal activities such as rhino poaching and the destruction of natural resources during celebrations for World Environment Day at the Zoo on Friday 13 June.

World Environment Day is celebrated annually on 5 June. The United Nations campaign aims to raise awareness around the need for environmental conservation and encourages people, organisations and businesses to do something positive for the environment. The 2014 theme, Raise your voice not the sea level, focuses on the difference small actions can make in saving the environment.

Activities for World Environment Day

Joburg City Parks and Zoo senior environmental specialist, Nathi Mvula, said the activities aimed to raise awareness around issues affecting the environment and to encourage children's participation in protecting natural resources.

"We encourage students from a very young age to raise awareness and take responsibility for issues concerning the environment," said Mvula.

Mvula said the protection and preservation of the environment were some of the most important issues facing human beings.

"The loss of biodiversity poses a serious threat to the wellbeing of both humans and the environment. Everyone must take small but meaningful steps to help preserve it," he said.

Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo manages the city's parks, cemeteries, open green areas, street trees and conserved spaces. Its aim is to create greener environment for the present community and future generations.

On the day, the children listened to talks on the critical situation facing rhinos in South Africa, the importance of planting trees, water pollution, and healthy living.

Children discussing the importance of rhinos to the economy at Joburg ZooChildren discussing the importance of rhinos to the economy at Joburg ZooIrene Huysamen, chairperson at Green Wall of Africa, urged the children to protect rhinos, adding that the animals were important for creating jobs, alleviating poverty and generating money in tourism. Green Wall of Africa conducts awareness and education around the plight of rhinos in Africa.

"We have less than 20 000 white rhinos and 5 000 black rhino left in the wild, which are critically endangered." said Huysamen.

She explained that the rhinos were being killed for their horns, which were often ground into traditional medicine despite there being no evidence this was effective, or displayed as symbols of wealth.

Rhinos have a special place in South Africans' hearts; the animals are one of the country's Big Five; which includes lions, elephants, buffalo, and leopards. They are so named because big game hunters believed these were Africa's five most dangerous animals to hunt.

Two white rhinos can be seen at the Joburg Zoo, Zimbi and Peter.

After the presentations, the school children visited the newly launched Animals of the Amazon exhibit at the recently completed Temple of the Ancients. The children were entranced by animals such as the Amazon tree boa constrictor and the gigantic yellow anaconda.

The exhibit also features species of snake, bat, spider, fish, frog and lizard found in the Amazon regions of Central and South America.

The Animals of the Amazon Exhibit is housed in a building that resembles an ancient Mayan temple.

Enclosures have been decorated with crafted rocks and trees indigenous to the Amazon Basin. One spectacular enclosure is that of the freshwater aquarium which has a walk-through tunnel.

Nomfundo Mthombeni, a school pupil, said she enjoyed the outing and the celebrations and pledged to do her part in combatting climate change.

"I hope to come back again next year," she said.