DULUTH -- The Great Lakes Aquarium has enlisted a slew of exotic wildlife species to draw attention to the world's second-largest freshwater lake.
"Nyanja! Africa's Inland Sea," an exhibit on Lake Victoria, opens March 30 at the downtown Duluth facility, billed as "America's first and only all-freshwater aquarium."
Developed by the New England Aquarium, the traveling exhibit features a Nile crocodile, several python, bullfrogs, hedgehogs and other wildlife indigenous to the Lake Victoria basin in east-central Africa.
But most of all, the exhibit includes a number of cichlid species -- a colorful fish -- 500 of which evolved over the past 14,000 years in the lake known as Nyanja by native Africans and christened Lake Victoria by European explorers.
A five-foot, 60-pound Nile crocodile is one of the exotic African wildlife species assembled for "Nyanja! Africa's Inland Sea," an exhibit that opens March 30 at the Great Lakes Aquarium in Duluth.
The lake, second only to Lake Superior in surface area, sits at the headwaters of the White Nile River, which ultimately flows into the Nile River. Bounded by Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya, the lake is the lifeblood for more than eight million people who live along or near its shores.
The Duluth aquarium is the first stop for the traveling exhibit, which will run through October 2003 at the facility that doubles as natural and cultural history center for the Arrowhead region of Minnesota.
"The exhibit raises public awareness about the variety of freshwater resources in the world," said Dana Kazel, the aquarium's spokeswoman. "It will help people gain a better perspective and appreciation of why we need to protect our natural water resources.
"But we educate rather than advocate," she added.
African bullfrogs can grow to nine inches in length and will swell to startling sizes in an effort to intimidate potential foes. Several bullfrogs will be on display in the Lake Victoria exhibit.
Several scenes -- the aquarium even hired an outside designer for this purpose -- have been created for the exhibit, including an African village market, a lakeside research station and a scientific display that details Lake Victoria's ecological history.
One of the exhibit's highlights, however, will be the animal, reptile, insect and fishery displays, including access to an acrylic bubble within the python's domain.
"The exhibit is a looking glass into all of the world's freshwater lakes," said Dennis Krenner, the aquarium's director of operations. "But the most important thing about the exhibit is its focus on the lake's culture."
Nyanja came under pressure in recent decades from human development and the introduction of commercial-grade fish, a move that expanded the region's economic and dietary options but threatened the indigenous cichlids, said Krenner and Kazel.
Visitors to the Lake Victoria exhibit can crawl into a special plastic bubble for a closeup view of the African exhibit's three pythons, one of which is more than 10 feet long.
But international efforts to correct the problem are catalogued in the exhibit, Krenner said.
The exhibit explains the fascinating details about the lake and draws comparisons with Lake Superior, such as:
* With 26,830 square miles, Lake Victoria is second in size to Lake Superior, the world's largest freshwater body with 31,280 square miles.
For more information about the exhibit, consult the aquarium's Web site at www.glaquarium.org or call (218) 740-3474.
* Lake Victoria's average depth is 131 feet while Lake Superior's is 484 feet.
* An estimated 400-500 species of fish have evolved in Lake Victoria over the last 14,000 years while only two fish species are believed to have evolved in Lake Superior.
* Lake Victoria sustains a watershed population of 8.1 million while only 607,000 people live in the Lake Superior watershed.
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