South Africa’s National Zoological Gardens is the largest zoo in the country. Spread over 85 hectares and with over 8,000 different animals, reptiles, fish and birds it is one of the most popular attractions in Tshwane and one of two zoos in Gauteng with the other being the Johannesburg zoo.
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, visitors were able to view animals from regions outside South Africa.
Later directors of the zoo brought new elements to the gardens such as mountainous exhibits and did away with the small animal cages of the old days in favour of spacious enclosures which closer resembled the animals’ natural habitats. Today the zoo’s spacious rocky areas are home to some of its most famous animals including Bengal tigers, lions, urial sheep and mountain ibex goats.
The current director of the zoo is Dr Clifford Nxomani who took over the reins as the sixth director in 2007. Under his leadership many of the zoo’s older facilities such as the farmyard and the aquarium have been revamped and gorillas have been introduced to the zoo.
The gardens themselves are huge and those with young kids may wish to rent one of the golf cars to traverse the zoo. Alternatively you can cross from one side of the zoo to the other by cable car (tickets for this cost extra).
Exotic animals from around the world found at the zoo include endangered Komodo dragons, koalas, emus, kangaroos and wolves, while the zoo also has lots of incredible African animals including elephants, lions, leopards, gorillas, hyenas and Pygmy hippos. The zoo has an excellent reptile house and an aquarium.
There are numerous picnic spots throughout the Zoo gardens and braai facilities can be found at the picnic area next to the Apies River. Those looking for a keepsake to remember the occasion should pay a visit to the Zoovenir Shop, which offers a range of special gifts.
There are plenty of resorts in Pretoria for day visit trips and longer stays, which are close to the zoo making for ease of travel. The zoo also offers a variety of day tours, night tours and you can even get the camping Gauteng experience.
Children under 15 years old: R60
School groups: R38 to R55
The zoo is open from 8.30am to 5.30pm, 365 days a year.