I went for a walk along paved paths, under shady trees and over lush green grass. Around every corner were places to sit and rest, as well as something new for me to see – and, when no one else was around, to talk to!
I was at the Johannesburg Zoo – and how different it is from the zoo that I remember from years back. Rows of small cages containing irritable monkeys, and enclosures with pacing lions, have been replaced by settings that are far more spacious and well planted and maintained. A brown bear came over to have a chat (I think) whilst a large, square-lipped rhino scratched the side of his neck on a stump and looked impassively into the lens. A huge, slumbering crocodile did not so much as open an eye to me, and a troop of young baboons stalked regally past. The giraffe seemed to be nibbling the neck of a keeper, and graceful, floating swans invited admiration. A little boy got terribly excited when a hippo he was watching sounded off, and asked nervously whether they ate people. He was re-assured when his mother told him that, just as he ate pap, hippos ate grass. However, I’m not sure that he was convinced.
The zoo was established in 1904 with a small selection of animals that included a male lion, a female leopard, a giraffe, 2 antelope, a genet, 2 monkeys, 2 porcupines an eagle, and a male baboon. It has grown to include lions, tigers, cheetahs, elephants, camels, buck, seals, birds, gorillas, chimpanzees, monkeys, foxes, farmyard animals and reptiles – and is now home to 2070 animals, of 365 species, spread over 54 hectares. There are plenty of trees, a number of water features and attractive walks. The land was donated to the people of Johannesburg, by the firm of Hermann Eckstein, to be used for recreational purposes. At about the same time Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, creator of Jock of the Bushveld, recommended that the city establish zoological gardens, and contributed some animals that he had captured on hunting trips.
The zoo has, since its inception, been a popular place with families – even although the first toilets were only erected in 1916, and there was no waterborne sewerage until the 1930s. Today, there are a number of toilet facilities around the grounds, all of which seem to be kept clean and welcoming.
The new Temple of the Ancients has recently been completed and will be opened soon. It is designed after the Mayan temples in Central America. This two-storey building with specially designed rooms for the ‘inhabitants’ will include a dome shaped aquarium with a walk through facility. The total cost will be of the order of R25 million, and should help attract even more visitors than the 500 000 people who came in 2008/9.
The zoo is a popular place with mothers and fathers with young children, as well as for those wanting a bit of peace for themselves. With plenty to see and plenty of space within which to work off excess energy, you can see why. And for the older youngsters of any age there is the Zoo Trot on the second Sunday of the month – a 5 or 10km walk or run within the security of the grounds, along good surfaces.
There are a number of programmes and tours run at the zoo, and a visit to the website will tell you all about them. Go and enjoy yourselves – I did – and it is worth taking a camera and a hat.
Hours: 08h30 – 17h30
Cost: Cars R10; Adults R41; Pensioners R23; Children [3-12 yrs] R23
For further information follow the links alongside.