Johannesburg, South Africa
Zoo is located in the northern suburbs of the city of Johannesburg on approximately 80 hectares. In 1904, the property was donated to the people of the city by Hermann Ekstein, a business man involved in the diamond trade who also helped “green” the city of Johannesburg by planting over 3 million trees across the span of the area. In the 1960’s major improvements began at the zoo to give the animals more space than they had in their outdated enclosures and to create a more natural setting relative to each species.
The zoo is home to more than 2000 animals of more than 320 species, including some of the most rare and endangered animals in the world. It is involved in breeding programs of many endangered animals, including the largest of all cat species the Siberian Tiger. The male resident tiger, “Twist”, is the father of all captive Siberian tigers in South Africa. There are many other species successfully breeding at the zoo, helping to preserve not only their numbers but the necessary genetic diversity needed for healthy populations. Three adorable Red pandas, native to China, are being hand-reared by keepers at the zoo with the long term goal of eventually returning some of the animals to their native habitat. The Scimitar horned Oryx, now thought to be completely extinct in its former range over all of the Sahara, is also being helped through conservation efforts at the zoo. Other conservation programs in which the zoo is involved include with White rhino, Wattled crane, and snow leopards.
The main areas of the zoo are divided into sections that feature animals from particular parts of the globe. Amazonia, for instance, features animals from the forests of the Amazon including spider monkeys, pumas, coatis, and armadillos. Cheetah slopes houses the fastest cats in the world next to other creatures that share their native range like the African Wild Dog, and the jackal. In Madagascar, five kinds of lemurs swing and play, including the highly endanger black and white ruffed lemur. These little clowns are quite fun to watch, as they leap, climb and interact with each other. At the Ape House, which was revamped in 2004 and can be found in the Heart of Africa section of the zoo, there are gorillas, orangutans, and chimpanzees. All great apes are in danger of extinction and the zoo is working with the Jane Goodall Institute to help conserve and protect chimpanzees. Also in this part of the zoo is the Forest floor exhibit, which houses the elusive and strangely beautiful rainforest antelope, the Bongo, and red river hogs.
Currently, the zoo has a very special guest being housed temporarily until she can be returned to her herd in the wild. “Phila” is a young female Black Rhino who was brought to the zoo to recover from injuries she suffered during two separate attacks by poachers. During the attacks, Phila was shot nine times, and it’s amazing she has survived. Her herd is part of a breeding program to restore the numbers of black rhinos, of which there are thought to less than 4000 remaining in the wild largely due to being hunted for their horns. The keepers have introduced some “toys” recently to Phila’s enclosure, hoping to stimulate her as well as encourage species appropriate behavior. It’s unclear how long Phila will call the zoo home, but for now it is a great privilege for guests to visit this rare, tough and unique animal.
The zoo features a children’s’ zoo where kids can touch sheep, Shetland Ponies, and giant Shire horses, as well as visit the adjoining playground. There are many types of tours offered at the zoo as well, including a 90 minute ferry tour that stops at the five main sections of the zoo, and guests will get to witness the tour guide giving snacks to three different lucky animals along the way. There are night tours as well, and even the chance to actually camp at the zoo! Campers will need to bring their own gear and be ready to rough it a little, but will go behind the scenes, and end the night with a bonfire all while listening to the sounds of lions and other animals active at night!
The Johannesburg Zoo is also a great venue for special events of all types, from board meetings at the elegant 50 seat AngloGold Ashanti Conference room to the lawn area overlooking the lake that can handle up to 1000 guests. There is also a Bandstand featuring brass bands and other musical acts that can seat up to 3000 people.