Loads of Edutainment at Pretoria Zoo

The National Zoological Gardens of South Africa, better known as Pretoria Zoo, was in the news recently when one of its residents was thought to have been stolen. Dubbed by the press as ‘Houdini’, the zoo’s two-meter long black mamba was found almost a month later in the Reptile Park service area, and how he escaped from his enclosure, and remained undetected despite an extensive search, remains a mystery. After a period of observation to ensure he was not traumatized or injured in any way, Houdini was returned to his terrarium where he got more than his usual share of attention, no doubt due to his new celebrity status.

Spread over an area of 85-hectares, the Pretoria Zoo is the largest zoo facility in South Africa and is closely associated with the National Research Foundation. The zoo receives more than 600,000 visitors each year to view its more than 9,000 specimens of mammals, birds, fish, invertebrates, reptile and amphibians. The zoo incorporates a Reptile Park and Aquarium, and features the country’s largest collection of exotic trees, which visitors can enjoy as they meander along the zoo’s six kilometers of pathways.

In addition to providing hours of entertainment for the entire family, the National Zoo has a range of educational programs during school holidays for learners of various ages. For the little ones (Grades R-3) Meet the Mammals is an introduction to the mammalian inhabitants of the zoo, teaching children the differences between mammals and reptiles, the feeding habits of various mammals and the habitats they favour. Hands-on activities include feeling various skin coverings to compare texture,m and completing worksheets and puzzles. Aimed at the same age group, Amazing Reptiles is an introduction to the inhabitants of the zoo’s Reptile Park complete with a Legends of Africa storytelling session and games of snakes and ladders. The Monkey Tricks program focuses on the unique abilities and behavior patterns of the primates in the zoo.

Courses for Grades 4-7 include An Introduction to Bird Identification, The World of Reptiles and Scavenger Hunt, with the latter giving the participants the opportunity to explore the zoo, collecting information about different species of animals and learning to use their senses, as well as developing map and orientation skills.

A 5 km ‘Friends of the Zoo Fun Run/Walk’ takes place on the third Saturday of every month at 6:30 am, and other special events take place throughout the year, so be sure to check the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa’s website when planning your visit.