Nelson Mandela woodpecker (File)
Frankfurt – The science world has added an unusual tribute to the long list of accolades bestowed on ex-president Nelson Mandela, naming a prehistoric woodpecker after him.
The anti-apartheid icon, who turns 94 on Wednesday, has already seen his name conferred on a species of spider, a nuclear particle, an American rescue dog, a tree, several sub-groups of flower, numerous race horses and a flat in a television sitcom.
The latest on the list is Australopicus nelsonmandelai, a woodpecker species whose remains were unearthed by French and German scientists at the Langebaanweg fossil site on South Africa’s southwest coast.
This is not just any old woodpecker – it is the oldest type ever found on the African continent.
“We have named the new species after Nelson Mandela – a sort of scientific present for his 94th birthday,” said Albrecht Manegold from the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt.
Australopicus nelsonmandelai is believed to have lived in the early Pliocene period about five to three million years ago. It was related to woodpecker species alive in the Americas and Eurasia today, and not to those found in Africa.
“The new taxon represents a previously unknown fourth lineage of African woodpeckers of Eurasian origin that probably became isolated on the African continent as a result of environmental changes,” said a report on the find published in the Journal of Vertebrate Palaeontology.
The scientists said their find provided evidence for the theory that the Langebaanweg area, now dominated by a type of shrubland vegetation known as fynbos, had been a riverine forest in the Pliocene period.
Mandela has had hundreds of structures and awards named after him in his home country and the rest of the continent as well as Europe, the Americas and Asia.
They include streets, municipalities, bridges, squares, parks and gardens… even a landfill site in Guyana, according to a website run by Mandela’s charitable foundation.
Mandela is unlikely to attend any of the host of celebrations being held in his honour on Wednesday, as the frail Nobel peace prize-winner has increasingly vanished from the public eye.
Last week, President Jacob Zuma described him as being in “good health”.