City of Joburg

Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo

Johannesburg Zoo


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Over a century ago, one of the city's founders handed a large swathe of land to residents. That land today makes up the Johannesburg Zoo, one of the most popular sites in town. And this year it turns 110.

A birthday must have cake!A birthday must have cake!THE Johannesburg Zoo is a grand 110 years old – almost as old as the city itself – and it celebrated this milestone in fine style with a big party on Sunday, 23 March. There were plenty of party visitors, slices of cake, music, and pamper sessions for the animal residents.

From humble beginnings as a quaint park in 1904, the zoo has evolved into an animal lover's paradise and one of the top spots for a family day out in the city of gold – more than 5 000 visitors pass through its gates each weekend. And it just gets better with the passing years. Situated in the picturesque suburb of Forest Town, the zoo spans more than 55 hectares and houses more than 2 000 animals from over 320 species.

There are lions, tigers, elephants, western lowland gorillas, pygmy hippos, Charles the chimp, ring tailed lemur, black and white ruffled lemur, red bellied lemur, Diana monkey, L'hoerst monkey, Sumatran orang-utan, rhino, Siamang gibbon, chimpanzees, sable antelope, bat-eared foxes and much, much more.

To tweak the interest of the public, in the run up to the party green boxes with alluring red "push" buttons were placed in three shopping malls. Once pushed, animal shaped balloons popped out and lucky winners received free tickets to the zoo.

On the day of the party, jumping castles, mime artists, stilt walkers and face painters crammed in the entertainment. There was a concert with SAMA-award winner Thembi Ntaka, Generations actor and musician Naak Musiq, and TV and radio presenter BUJY was the MC. The Johannesburg Youth Symphonic Orchestra performed the birthday song, against a backdrop of a slide show displaying the zoo's illustrious past.

Celebrating the Joburg Zoo's birthday in styleCelebrating the Joburg Zoo's birthday in styleBut the fun has not ended; more activities are on the cards to run until March 2015.

In 1904, the land on which the zoo now stands was donated to the people of the city for recreational purposes by the firm of the late Hermann Eckstein. Eckstein was involved in building the new mining town of Johannesburg and spearheaded the planting of three million trees in an area which he christened Sachsenwald, now the suburb of Saxonwold. The zoo sits on the boundary between the modern suburbs of Saxonwold, Forest Town and Parkview.

The original animal collection consisted of one lion, one leopard, one giraffe, two sable antelope bulls, one baboon, one genet, one pair of rhesus monkeys, one pair of porcupines and one golden eagle. The first "official" enclosure was built by the town council of the day to house two young lions. At that time, only the lions and leopard were in the public area.

Over the years, the zoo's growth has been phenomenal, beginning with the addition of facilities, including the animal hospital in 1936. Between 1913 and 1915 the stone elephant and rhino house was built to house the pachyderms. Today, the Old Elephant House is a superb old stone building that functions as an indoor and outdoor entertainment area, with a chapel. The setting is park-like and peaceful, and it is the ideal wedding or party venue.

By the 1960s, interest was growing in seeing animals in larger, more natural enclosures. With this prompting its direction, the zoo continued to expand by upgrading old enclosures and developing new ones. It established educational and environmental programmes, and set up local and international breeding platforms.

The surrounds have also been improved to include bridges over water courses, paths, and ornamental trees and gardens. The Johannesburg Zoo has also joined local and international breeding programmes, and today it is a member of the African Association of Zoos and Aquaria and the World Association of Zoos and Aquaria. Almost since opening, it has been a leading organisation in animal welfare and zoo architecture, building enclosures to resemble its animals' natural environments. It prides itself on high standard of animal welfare, nutrition and ethical conduct.

An uncompromising stance is taken in playing an important role in conservation projects of both indigenous and international endangered animals. It is proud to be partnered with other conservation organisations in programmes such as:

  • Wattled Crane Recovery;
  • Amphibian Conservation;
  • Ground Hornbill Breeding and off-site surveys;
  • Vulture Conservation;
  • Chimpanzee Conservation with the Jane Goodall Institute; and,
  • Various projects of the Endangered Wildlife Trust.

As a popular tourist attraction, the zoo has much to offer visitors, such as various night and day tours, school holiday programmes, venue hire and regular events for the public. It is an entity of the City of Joburg and also a section 21 company. Programmes that help its ongoing fundraising efforts include Adopt an Animal and annual membership.