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Welcome to University of Venda’s Department of Zoology

We are situated in a truly fascinating region of the world, the Vhembe District, South Africa and we are the only Zoology Department in the world situated within a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve!

Our department consists of dedicated staff members involved with teaching and training zoologists, ecologists and nature conservationists. As a department, we exist to conduct research and make a difference to the lives of our students within the context of a developing rural region.

Recent exciting developments

The Department of Zoology recently published its first ever paper in the prestigious international journal Science. This was also the very first time the University of Venda has featured in this journal. Professor Yoshan Moodley headed the genetic analysis of the Helicobacter pylori strain in the stomach of the Tyrolean Iceman “Ötzi”, who has been dead for over 5000 years, but perfectly mummified in an Alpine glacier. He discovered that the Iceman’s strain belonged to a bacterial population that is different to that which can be found in modern-day European stomachs, implying that major human migrations into Europe must have occurred within the last 5000 years. News of the article was featured in the New Y ork Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Guardian and many other international newspapers. Read more about this fantastic finding on the Science website: The Department will be offering our new Diploma in Freshwater Technology from 2014, equip students for a career in freshwater biology and freshwater resource management, by training them as technical staff with a practical working knowledge of aspects such as assessment. Potential career opportunities exist in the Department of Water Affairs, national and provincial departments of Environmental Affairs, Water Boards (Rand Water Board, Umgeni Water Board and Sedibeng Water), municipalities and local authorities as well as Catchment Management Agencies (CMAs) and Water User Associations (WUAs). The University of Venda has been awarded a SARChi Chair entitled ”Biodiversity and Change in the Vhembe Biosphere Reserve”. This initiative


Teach, research and communicate knowledge in the ecology, conservation and management of rural areas with the following thrusts:

· Global change ecology
· Evolutionary Genetics
· Alien invasion
· Freshwater conservation
. Insect Taxonomy


To discover, teach and broadly communicate, knowledge on sustainable rural livelihoods.

Strategic Objectives


· Provide quality training for undergraduate students from previously disadvantaged communities that will enable them to access postgraduate opportunities nationally and internationally at reputable tertiary institutions.
· Maintain a rigorous, broad-based major in biological sciences that provides a compelling learning experience.
· Emphasize general purpose problem solving and analytical abilities that have broad
applicability and so foster an ability to adapt to the changing world. · Emphasize the fundamental building blocks in biology that constitute themes of unification and integration.
· Devise and maintain a non-major instructional program that captures the attention of students and enables them to understand a wide range of contemporary biomedical, biological, medical, and environmental issues.


- Focus research on scarce resources, water in particular
- Develop strategic liaisons with national and international Universities, research institutions and international conservation organisations


Communicate contemporary biological science in a compelling way to the public through lectures, workshops, service on boards, outreach to schools, interviews with the media, and other appropriate endeavors.
Inform public policy on the pressing problems of the day (e.g., bio-ethics, environment, evolution) through consultations, service on boards, and related endeavors.

Last updated 10 August 2016

The following courses are offered by Zoology:

BSc Botany and Zoology
BSc Biodiveristy and Conservation
Diploma in Freshwater Technology
BSc Hons Zoology
BSc Hons Conservation Biology
MSc Zoology
PhD Zoology

Minimum requirements for BSc degree

National senior certificate as certified by the Council for General and Further Education and Training (Umalusi) with an achievement rating of 4 (Adequate achievement; 50-59%) or better in each one of the following four recognized 20-credit NSC subjects:

i) English
ii) Mathematics
iii) Physical Science
iv) Any other related subjects as judged by responsible Departments

Minimum requirements for Diploma in Freshwater Technology

National senior certificate with a minimum of 30% in the language of learning coupled with an achievement rating of 3 (moderate achievement; 40-49%) or better in four of the recognized 20-credit NSC subjects and a 4 in either Biology, Agricultural Science or Physical Science.

Last updated 10 August 2016

First Year Modules
BIO1541: Diversity of Life

Biological principles and the science of biology, the origin and chemistry of life, classification and phylogeny of animals, review of bacteria, fungi and viruses, kingdom protista (classification 7 characteristics), kingdom animalia (a general review), kingdom plantae (review , life cycles and theories of their possible origin).

BIO1542: Cell Biology

Organic chemistry: the scope of biochemistry, organic compounds of importance to the living system, structure, functional groups, stereochemistry and characteristics of the carbohydrates, lipids, proteins and nucleic acids, chemical-physical principles of biochemical bonds, matrix of life: weak interactions in an aqueous solution, energetics of life. Cytology: history of cell biology, cell theory, membrane biology, structure and features of eukaryotic cells, techniques used in cytology. prokaryotic cells. Genetics: DNA replication, transcription and translation, introductory principles of mitosis and meiosis, Chromosome variation, sex determination and the mechanism of sex related inheritance, Mendelian genetics, multiple factor inheritance

BIO 1643: Ecology, Adaptation and Evolution

Ecosystems, Energy flow and nutrient cycling, Analysis of communities, ecological hierarchy and sampling methodology, species and their relationship, common and rare species, latitude gradients, interactive network and food webs, niches and competition, demography, dispersal, evolution and natural selection, microevolution, macroevolution, origin of life.

BIO1644: Introductory Human Anatomy and Physiology

Introduction to human Physiology and Anatomy: chemical basis of life, introduction to cytology and cell physiology, histology: skin and integument, support and movement, integration and coordination, reproduction, processing and transportation.

Second Year Modules

BIO2542: Ecology

Population distribution and abundance, population dynamics, population growth, life histories, competition, predation, herbivory, parasitism, mutualism. energy flow and nutrient cycling in ecosystems; biomes and factors determining spatial distribution of life zones in the world and South Africa.

ZOO 2544: Principles of Genetics

An introduction to the central principles of Genetics, covering the following topics: Genes and loci, Genetic markers and variation, DNA replication, Mutation, Recombination, Transcription, Protein synthesis (Translation), Regulation of gene expression, Epigenetics, Genetic engineering, Genetic structure, Gene flow, Genetic drift, Selection, Artificial selection and domestication, Assortative mating/Sexual selection, Evolution, Mendelian Genetics, Hardy Weinberg Equilibrium.

BIO2646: Conservation Biology I

An introduction to physiology, concept of homeostasis, cell physiology, food and energy, gaseous exchange, blood physiology, cardiovascular system, water and osmotic regulation, movement, information and integration, calcium metabolism and bone formation, body heat and temperature regulation and reproduction.

ZOO2541: Animal Physiology

Introduction to cell structure and functions of cell organelles, specialized cell types, cell division, principles of cellular transport, Structure and function of tissues, organs and organ systems, Nutrition and feeding, Structure and function of the respiratory systems, including movement of respiratory gases in, out and around the body, Structure and function of the urinary system, and its role in regulating body fluids, Characteristics of body structure of a range of invertebrates and vertebrates in particular to type of skeletal systems, and movement, tructure and function of the nervous system including sense organs, initiation and transmission of nerve impulses and conduction across the synapse, co-ordination of the body in terms of sensory, integrative and motor functions of the nervous system

ZOO2648: Animal Phylogeny

Introduction to evolutionary biology, the tree of life: classification and phylogeny, patterns of evolution, evolution in the fossil record, history of life on earth, biogeography, evolution of biodiversity. Major animal body plans

Third Year Modules

BIO3646: Conservation Biology II

The natural world; principals and concepts; human impacts, habitat destruction and disturbance; sustainability; history of conservation biology, selecting protected areas; in situ and ex situ conservation strategies; the landscape mosaic, managing for biodiversity, ecological restoration.

BIO3544: Limnology

Defining limnology and identifying the applicable ecological concepts, the physic-chemical aspects of water, the hydrological cycle, the global and national water situation. The definition, structure, classification and functioning of wetlands. The origin, geomorphology, and zoning of wetlands. The effects of damning on river systems. A review of rivers, fresh water lakes and wetland types in a global and regional perspective. Processes within water bodies (gasses, nutrients, primary and secondary production and the cycling of nutrients). The effect of water pollution and eutrophication.

ZOO3541: Animal Ecophysiology

The physics of heat exchange, heat transfer, heat balance and control systems, animal responses to the thermal environment, physics of water movement, evaporative water loss and water turnover rates, nutritional requirements, energy, energy metabolism and the energy budgets, communication in the ecosystem.

ZOO3649: Evolutionary Genetics

The Central Dogma, Genes and Genomes, Extranuclear DNA, Molecular genetics, Darwin and Selection, Sexual selection, Adaptation, Mendel and Inheritance, Gene frequencies and allele frequencies, The Modern Synthesis, Genetic Drift and Migration, Recombination, Neutral vs Functional Variation, Epigenetics, Speciation, Molecular ecology, Conservation genetics, Ancient DNA, Measuring Genetic Diversity and Structure, Population genetics, Modelling and model testing, Coalescence, Phylogenetics, Gene trees, Species trees and Phylogenomics, Phylogeography.

Honours Modules

ZOO5607: Molecular Ecology

Human Evolution: from Africa to the world, Host-parasite interactions, Inferring Genetic Structure, Inferring Admixture, Models and model testing, Maximum Likelihood vs Bayesian Inference, Heuristic parameter estimation, Markov Chain Monte Carlo Simulations, Approximate Bayesian Computation, Coalescent Theory, Migration-Drift Equilibrium, Changes in Effective Population Size, Trees vs Networks, “Model-free” inference, Genetic landscapes

ZOO5611: Conservation Biology

Concepts (niche, life history, migration and dispersion, small populations, metapopulations, population interactions, succession, food webs, ecosystem functioning, biodiversity, island biogeography, sustainability) and the applications (alien invasive, restoration, conservation, minimum viable populations, habitat fragmentation, global climate change, economic thresholds, biological control, integrated pest management, eutrophication, agriculture, ecosystem health, conservation planning, economic implications

BIO5510: Applied Limnology

The limnology of lotic water bodies and the role of the ecohydraulic template. The impact of reservoirs and inter-basin transfer on lotic systems. The South African Water Act and its implications. Biomonitoring and the role of biotic indices in EcoStatus and wetland health determination. Sampling methods used in lentic and lotic systems.

ZOO5609: Animal Ecophysiology

Costs of living: Cost of production and cost of maintenance, cost of reproduction, trade-offs and their measurements, Physiological energetic (feeding, metabolism and growth): the comparative physiology of animal digestive system, feeding and digestion, optimal foraging and optimal digestion, constraints imposed by food items, Growth in animals: central concept, growth curves, metabolism and growth, physiology and cellular aspects of growth, the regulation and integration of growth, hormonal influences, environmental factors and growth, environmental tolerance, environmental stressors, Niche overlap and diet analysis: measurement of niche breadth and niche overlap, dietary preferences and indices, Reproduction: endocrine control, species difference in reproductive mechanisms, ovulation rate, embryonic mortality, gestation length, patterns of reproduction, pregnancy and lactation, the costing of reproduction, types of costing, trade-offs and their causes, the environment and reproduction.

BIO 5606: Insect Diversity and Conservation

Basic insect morphology; higher classification of the Class Insecta; threats to insects; response of insects to the landscape mosaic; surveying and monitoring, insect conservation planning and management.

Last updated 10 August 2016


Current research and collaborations

Besides our teaching and administrative duties, we are also involved with research on global change ecology, invasive aliens, freshwater conservation, molecular genetics and taxonomy.

Dr Paul Fouche is currently working on a project on Nandonni Dam registered with the Water Research Commission, with collaborators from University of Limpopo. Other project include among others a long term monitoring of fish populations in Kruger National park with Prof. Nico Smit from University of Johannesburg. He is also part of the provincial biomonitoring team at national meetings of the River Health Programme.

Prof Ben van der Waal is involved with a project on water resource management in the Caprivi Strip funded by WWF. He has just returned!

Dr Tshifhiwa Nanngambi has recently registered a project on genetic divergence among different Venda groups with Univen’s Research and Publications Committee. She is also collaborating with Dr from Natal Museum on Mollusca or something like that. She has also built up a new genetics laboratory at our department.

Prof. Jan Crafford is involved with supervising Mr Koos Steyn from UNIVEN School of Environmental Sciences on the use of trap crops in Macadamia orchards as a viable pest control strategy. He is supervising Mr project testing island biogeography theory in natural forest fragments in a grassland matrix, otherwise known colloquially as leopard bush.

Dr Stefan Foord, a core team member of the DST-NRF Center for Excellence in Invasion Biology, has a project registered with the NRF on spider diversity in the Savanna biome, and also conducts extensive sampling for the SANSA project headed by Prof Ansie Dippenaar Schoeman from the Agricultural Research Council. He is also supervising Dr Norbert Hahn’s Post-Doctoral project on the impact of invasive aliens in the Soutpansberg and and Caswell Munyai’s project on ants along an elevational transect in the Soutpansberg. He is also co-supervising honours students for 2010.

Mr Colin Schoeman has registered a project with Univen’s Research and Publications Committee on insect diversity and conservation in the Vhembe Biosphere Reserve that is running from 2010—2011. Dr Stephan Foord and Henk Geertsema of University of Stellenbosch are co-workers on this project. Mr Schoeman is supervising Daisy Thononda, Vanessa Matukana and Mandla Magoro’s honours projects on biodiversity in traditional agricultural landscapes.

Mr Schoeman and Mr Munyai have also started building up an insect collection for the department.

The department has a close association with Lajuma Research Station run by Prof. Ian Gaiger. Many of our student practicals and honors and masters projects have been conducted at Lajuma.

Canopy fogging for spiders on Lajuma
Specially woven baskets for catching fish in Caprivi
“Nice day for a spot of Malacology!”

“I caught a fish this big!” Nandoni Dam Project

Caswell at CIB’s annual research meeting


Staff and graduate students at Zoology

Please browse through our staff and graduate student page. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions.

Academic Staff
Prof. Jan Ernst Crafford
Dr. Stefan foord
Prof Ben van der waal
Dr. Paul fouche
Dr. Tshifhiwa Nanngambi
Mr Colin Schoeman
Mr Justice Madonsela

Graduate Students
Caswell Munyai

Technical support staff
Mr Kathutshedo Magwede
Mr Gabriel Phaphana

Academic Staff

Prof. Jan Ernst Crafford

Dean's Profile

Jan Crafford was trained at Pretoria University, and spent many years studying the ecology and describing the insects of Marion Island. He holds the record for the longest continuous stay on Marion. He has recently, along with Prof Ian Gaiger, spearheaded the proclamation of the Vhembe Biosphere Reserve. He is currently the Dean of the School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences.


CRAFFORD J.E., SCHOLTZ C.H. & CHOWN S.L. 1986. The insects of sub-Antarctic Marion and Prince Edward Islands; with a bibliography of entomology of the Kerguelen biogeographical province. South African Journal of Antarctic Research Monograph Series 16:41-84

CRAFFORD J.E. and CHOWN S.L. 1993. Respiratory metabolism of sub-Antarctic insects from different habitats on Marion Island. Polar Biology 13:411-415

BERGER K., CRAFFORD J.E., GAIGHER I.G., GAIGHER M.J., and MacDONALD I.W. (eds.) 2003 A first synthesis of the environmental, biological and cultural assets of the Soutpansberg. Proceedings of a workshop on the natural and cultural assets of the Soutpansberg, Lajuma, December 2002. Leach Printers, Louis Trichardt


Dr. Stefan foord

A keen rugby player turned naturalist, and now heading the Department of Zoology, Dr Foord was trained at Pretoria University, and completed his PhD on the systematic revision of the spider family Hersiliidae. His current research deals with response of arachnid community assemblages to global change, with emphasis on global climate change and invasive aliens. He is a core team member of the DST-NRF Center of Excellence for Invasion Biology. He teaches phylogeny and applied animal ecology.


Foord, S.H., Mafadza, M., Dippenaar-Schoeman, A.S., Van Rensburg, B.J. 2008. Micro-scale heterogeneity of spiders (Arachnida: Araneae) in the Soutpansberg, South Africa: a comparative survey and inventory in representative habitats. African Zoology 43: 156-174.
Foord, S.H. 2008. Cladistic analysis of the family Hersiliidae (Arachnida Araneae) of the Afrotropical Region with the first records of Murricia and the description of a new genus, Prima, from Madagascar. Journal of Afrotropical Zoology 4: 111-141.

Societies: Zoological Society of Southern Africa, International Society of Arachnologists


Prof Ben van der waal

Ben was trained at Pretoria University and did his PhD on fish ecology and fisheries management in Caprivi, Namibia. He has recently spent the poast three years doing full-time research for the WWF on sustainable management of the fish populations in the Caprivi strip. He is interested in limnology of water bodies in Southern Africa, fisheries development in the Zambezi and Kavango Rivers, Ethnozoology of southern Africa, Conservation Biology and living sustainably in Africa.Ben teaches Water Resource Management and Limnology.

Recent publications:

Van der Waal, B C W 2001. Fish as a resource in a rural river catchment in Northern Province, African Journal of Aquatic Science 2000 25:56-70.

D’Amato, ME, Esterhuyse, MM, van der Waal, BCW, Brink, D and Volkaert FAM 2007. Hybridization and phylogeography of the Mozambique tilapia Oreochromis mossambicus in southern Africa evidenced by mitochondrial and microsatellite DNA genotyping. Conservation Genetics 8:475-488.

Societies: South African Association of Aquatic Scientists, Aquaculture Association of Southern Africa


Dr. Paul fouche

Paul is an aquatic biologist, having studied the impact of freshwater degradation on fish morphology and physiology, and populations in Limpopo Province’s threatened rivers. He has recently completed his PhD on the ecology and biology of the Lowveld largescale yellowfish (Labeobarbus arequensis) (Smith 1843) in the Luvuvhu River. He is currently developing a new Diploma in Freshwater monitoring. He is currently involved with monitoring of fish populations and communities in various freshwater bodies in Limpopo Province including Kruger National Park.


FOUCHé, P.S.O., VLOK, W. and VENTER, J. 2008. An investigation of the microhabitat preference of Labeobarbus marequensis In the Sabie, Olifants and Crocodile rivers within the Kruger National Park. Proceedings of the 11th Yellowfish Working Group conference, 13 – 15 April 2007.
FOUCHé P.S.O., VLOK, W. and Jooste A. 2009. Changes in the body shape and accompanying habitat shifts observed in the life cycle of lowveld largescale yellowfish, Labeobarbus marequensis, in the Luvuvhu River catchment. Proceedings of the 13th Yellow Working Group Conference, 6 – 8 March 2009.

Societies: South African Association of Aquatic Scientists


Dr. Tshifhiwa Nanngambi

Tshifhiwa completed her Ph.D. degree in the School of Biological and Conservation Sciences at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Her Ph.D. research concerns the Systematics of the Phasianellidae in southern Africa (Mollusca: Gastropoda: Vetigastropoda). Tshifhiwa uses morphological and molecular data to identify natural groupings and infer phylogenetic relationships at the generic, subgeneric and species levels. Her current research project is on the genetic analysis of different tribal groups in the Limpopo Province: towards the establishment of Human Genetics Laboratory at the University of Venda. In 2004 she won the award for second best poster at the World Congress of Malacology in Perth, Australia, as well as the award for second best poster at the UKZN "Showcase of Research Excellence" exhibition. She teaches Cell Biology and Genetics.


Nangammbi TC & Herbert DG (2006) Two new species of Tricolia Risso, 1826 from South Africa (Mollusca: Gastropoda: Phasianellidae). African Invertebrates 47:11-22.
Nangammbi TC & Herbert DG (2008) A new species of pheasant shell from the south-western Indian Ocean (Mollusca: Gastropoda: Vetigastropoda: Phasianellidae: Tricolia). African Invertebrates 49(2): 13-19.

Societies: SASSB - Southern African Society for Systematic Biology, South Africa, Unitas Malacologica


Mr Colin Schoeman

Colin has recently completed his MSc on the Synergistic impact of Argentine ants and pine trees on native ants. He is interested in broad conservation issues surrounding insects: viz. how insects respond to the Vhembe traditional landscape mosaic. He teaches Conservation Biology and Entomology.


COLIN S. SCHOEMAN AND MICHAEL J. SAMWAYS, 2010. Synergisms between alien trees and the Argentine ant on indigenous ant species. Biodiversity Conservation (submitted).

Societies: South African Council of Scientific Professionals (Candidate Natural Scientist), Entomological Society of South Africa


Mr Justice Madonsela

Justice trained at UKZN and UWC. He focuses on physiology of small mammals, with the main focus on the role of dietary proteins in sexual function., biological control of alien plants (water hyacinth), and biological water monitoring, using algal group known as diatoms (Bacillariophyta). Justice teaches Physiology, Ecophysiology, Animal Diversity and Human Anatomy and Physiology.


Vawda, A.I and Mandlwana (Madonsela), G.J.1990. The effects of dietary protein deficiency on rat testicular function. Andrologia 22:575-585.

Professional membership: Microscopic Society of Southern Africa (MSSA), South African Society of Aquatic Sciences (SASAqS)

Graduate Students

Mr Caswell Munyai

Caswell is doing his MSc degree on an ant transect across the Soutpansberg, using elevation as a surrogate for global climate change.

Technical support staff

Mr Kathutshedo Magwede

Kathu is currently completing his MSc degree with Botany. He assists in the lab and the field.

Mr Gabriel Phaphana

Gabriel assists in the lab and field

Directions: University of Venda Campus is located in Thohoyandou, Northern province. To drive from Makhado, take the R 524 Sebasa Road off the N1,. Continue past Piesanhoek and Entabeni. Just after Entabeni, there is a road block, turn right and continue following the Thohoyandou signs. You’ll drive through the Levubu tropical valley, and eventually you will turn right back onto Sebasa road. Continue straight, drive past Tshakuma, and continue until you see the Thohoyandou Sibasa sign, at the following set of robots turn left. Continue onwards, at the second set of robots there is a board with VENCO written, turn left there, continue straight on. Just before the road turns to the left take the right and continue onwards until you see the parking behind a large building (the library). We are situated next to the Library in the Mathematics and Natural Sciences building.

To Contact us: University of Venda
Department of Zoology
School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences
University of Venda
Private Bag X5050

Contact persons in the Department

- Prof SH Foord (015) 962 8492
- Prof Prof IEJ Barnhoorn (015) 962 8041

Last updated 10 August 2016