Pretoria Zoo

South Africa’s National Zoological Gardens, an 85ha facility in Tshwane that houses over 8 000 animals, reptiles, fish and birds, is the largest zoo in the country – and the only one with national status. More than 600 000 visitors pass through the zoo’s gates each year.

Lion, Pretoria Zoo. Photo courtesy La Chiquita

The animal safe house had humble beginnings as a petting zoo, set outside an old farmhouse. The original zoological gardens, founded in 1899 by the then-director of the Staatsmuseum (“State Museum”), Dr Jan Gunning, comprised a collection of birds and a few mammals that were transferred to Rus in Urbe farm following the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer war.

The zoo received national status in 1916 under Dr Alwin Haager. Although the facility didn’t have the funds to purchase animals, it was used as a stopover point for animals being transported from Africa to Europe and America. In this way, local residents were able to view animals from regions outside South Africa.

The third director, Dr Rudolph Bigalke, brought a new element to the gardens – mountainous exhibits – which marked the beginning of the end of small cages for zoo animals. Today, these habitats house Bengal tigers, lions, urials and ibex.

Tiger, Pretoria Zoo. Photo courtesy of Jan Truter

The zoo’s fourth director, Dr Frank Brand, believed that the facility should represent animals’ natural habitat, so during his tenure the zoo enclosures were enlarged and habitats were made animal specific.

Willie Labuschagne, the fifth director, took the zoological gardens to even greater heights. During his directorship the zoo was voted one of the top 10 in the world and became a veritable tourist hot spot.

Dr Clifford Nxomani took over the reins as the sixth director in 2007. Under his leadership there have been many improvements: the farmyard has been refurbished; the aquarium has been revamped; and successful negotiations have seen the acquisition of four gorillas from Switzerland and Israel.

The Pretoria Zoo offers a full day out for visitors of all ages. Pay a visit to the South African fur seals, gorilla enclosure, the aquarium, reptile park and the endangered Komodo dragon. Navigate the zoo’s various paths by golf cart, hire children’s fun pushcarts, or catch the Zoo Choo-Choo train. A particularly popular feature is the cableway, which takes visitors on a seven-minute ride to the mountain top.

There are numerous picnic spots throughout the Zoo, where you can relax in the shade of giant trees. Braai (barbeque) facilities are available at the picnic area next to the Apies River or, if you prefer, you can sample the cafeteria’s wide variety of delicious takeaways, enjoy a sit-down meal at the licensed restaurant, or grab a snack at one of the zoo’s four kiosks.

Those looking for a keepsake to remember the occasion should pay a visit to the Zoovenir Shop, which offers a range of special gifts.

Adults: R75
Children (2-15): R50
Organised school groups: R32 (Monday to Wednesday)
Organised school groups: R45 (Thursday and Friday
The entrance fee includes a visit to the Aquarium and Reptile Park, as well as the Zoo.

Visiting hours
The Zoo is open from 08:30 to 17:30. Tickets are available from 08:30 to 16:30 daily.