Video: National Zoo ‘still an attraction’, renovations and all

Henry

The management of the national zoo in Pretoria is determined that essential renovations should not hinder visitors’ experience.

This zoo celebrates its 123rd anniversary this year and has been managed by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (Sanbi) since 2018. The institution has undergone extensive renovations over the past two years, to ensure that it can offer its more than 200,000 annual visitors an “entertaining and educational experience”.

However, many holidaymakers who have recently visited the facility have expressed their dissatisfaction with the facilities at the zoo on social media. Photos of broken roofs, empty enclosures and debris in the Apies River flowing through the zoo have been doing the rounds on social media.

Shonisani Munzhedzi, CEO of Sanbi, says the institute inherited the century-old infrastructure and that much of it needs to be completely redone. There is little Sanbi can do about the litter in the Apies River that flows through the zoo.

“It is extremely important that visitors and residents bear in mind that the Apies River flows through large parts of the city center and that litter flows downstream through the zoo.

“Every day we have teams that enter the Apies River and remove the rubbish. However, there is only more and more rubbish. We even had to remove bodies from our side of the river. It is a problem over which we have little control,” he says.

A better experience for man and animal

The institute has made available approximately R105 million for the upgrades and maintenance of infrastructure, of which approximately R88 million has already been paid out to contractors for renovations.

After hundreds of complaints about the parking lot at the zoo, its renovation was finally completed in 2022. Improved access to the reptile park and aquarium was also completed last year and five sets of ablution facilities were restored.

The Dukuduku restaurant, the gorilla shelter as well as the hippo shelter have been renovated and improved.

Munzhedzi says fencing that protects the Southern hummingbirds, ducks, chickens and cranes has been improved and restoration at the raptor cages, parrot cages, reptile cages and the aquarium is also imminent.

“Major renovations to Stormy Bay, where the seals are kept, are also underway and are expected to be completed along with the white rhino camps and owl exhibits by the end of May.”

He added that numerous walkways, bridges and shelters have also been renovated.

“We try to keep visitors’ expectations in mind by moving animals to open enclosures when their enclosures need to be upgraded.

“A 17% discount on access is also given to visitors during the upgrades,” he says.

Almost 5,000 individual animals are kept in the zoo.

Dr. Dewald Keet, the zoo’s veterinarian, has worked in the Kruger National Park for a large part of his life. He says many people ask him how he can now work at a zoo after his work as a veterinarian in the Kruger National Park.

He says the answer is simple: “Both institutions are equally important for nature conservation.”

According to Keet, the animals are housed in safe and clean enclosures and are managed and cared for in accordance with best global practice – as reflected in the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) guidelines.

“Our zoo is an accredited member of the Pan-African Association of Zoos and Aquariums and also a member of WAZA. We are part of the global community of highly regarded zoos and aquariums committed to the care and protection of wildlife and spaces.

The zoo is also home to a world-class research center and biobank that studies biodiversity and the sustainable use of indigenous biological resources and the establishment and maintenance of databases in this regard.

“It also contributes to the zoo’s mandate to establish, maintain, protect and preserve collections of animals and micro-organisms in appropriate enclosures,” says Keet.

News about the renovations and their progress is posted regularly on the zoo’s social media platforms and on their website. Many of the renovations are expected to be completed by the end of May.