National Zoological Gardens. Zoo in Pretoria, South Africa

National Zoological Gardens

Zoo in Pretoria, South Africa

National Zoological Gardens Photo ©

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National Zoological Gardens

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Covering 85 hectares of land, and situated on a semi-flat, semi-hilly land, in central Pretoria, the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa (also known as the Pretoria Zoo), reminds us of a well-structured natural site. The zoo, separated in two by the Apies River (Wikipedia Article), provides its visitors with two bridges leading them to the river.


The site once a farm owned by the then South African President, Stephanus Schoeman, (1810-1890), was sold to Johannes Francois Celliers, who renamed it “Rus in Urbe”. Then, acquired by the State in 1895, it became the zoological gardens in 1899, during the second Boer War, under the authority of J.W.B Gunning (1860-1913), a Dutch physician who lived in Pretoria during that time. It later was renamed the National Zoological Gardens in 1916.

	National Zoological Gardens
Tiger in National Zoological Gardens Pretoria. . Photo by Jan Truter

Sightseeing in the Gardens

Rated as one of the top zoos in the world, the zoo receives approximately 600,000 visitors a year. A unique experience awaits you there, as it recreates the natural environments of its hosts to the closest. 9087 animals are currently living in this contemporary African zoo. You would want to see them all, but a one day visit just wouldn't be enough, which tells you how interesting this site is.

The Pretoria zoo is not just a collection of caged animals, but one must agree that it plays a role in the conservation of many endangered species. For instance, the zoo is well known to undergo breeding programs, like with the world's first white rhino, born in the zoo. We've listed below, some of its impressive attractions and exhibitions.

	viper - National Zoological Gardens
Gaboon viper - National Zoological Gardens. Photo by Javier Medina
  • The largest inland marine aquarium: Having been created approximately 14 to 15 years ago, the zoo aquarium, is one of the best spots for visitors. The central part of the aquarium is the deepest with at least four (medium size) sharks inside, it’s such an impressive experience to watch them swim away as you touch the glass of the aquarium.
  • 309 specimen of 93 reptile species and 44 specimen of seven amphibian species: The reptile park is filled with snakes and other reptiles from all over the world. You can spot two huge anacondas in the biggest glass cage. They even have a Gaboon Viper. All cages are well labeled, with the names and origins of the reptiles.
  • 3117 specimen of 209 mammal species: The African elephant, which is bigger than its Asian cousin, is displayed in an open parcel, safely separated from the visitors by a few miles. One of the main attractions is the zoo’s silver back gorilla (brought from the virgin forest in central Africa), which always attracts new visitors, because of its size and passivity. You also have a section (a bit in altitude) which displays large cats such as the tiger, lions, a grizzly bear and a leopard. The most exciting moment, is when the tigers and lions are fed. The tigers always seem restless, it’s an amazing sight for visitors to witness how majestic and strong they are.
  • 1358 specimen of 202 bird species: At the western part of the zoo (coming from the main entrance), there’s an enormous bird fenced area, comprising of birds from all over the world grouped together, each one of them in their recreated respective environments.
  • 388 specimen of four invertebrate species: Situated not far from the aquarium, it’s interesting to learn about all the different species, some such as the crabs, which seem familiar, but the zoo offers you an abundance of additional information about it.

The enclosures are large, and all animals look healthy and well kept. There’s just this natural feel when you visit the zoo as some of the animal’s natural sounds are reproduced, especially when you get close to the aquarium. Night tours are also provided to visitors who are curious about nocturnal animals.

The zoo is opened 7 days a week from 8:30 AM to 17:30 PM. Fees are payable at the entrance of the zoo and amounts to $ 8.00 USD ( R75 ($6.68)) for adults and $ 5.00 USD ( R50 ($4.45)) for children between 2 to 15 years of age. We would advise you to change your foreign currency to the required amounts in rand before your visit to the zoo.

How to Get Around

	Zoo - May 2012 016 - National Zoological Gardens
Pretoria Zoo - May 2012 016 - National Zoological Gardens. Photo by John Karwoski
The zoo is so big that it would be impossible to visit all the enclosures in a single day (the walkways are 6 km long). The zoo has put, at the disposal of visitors, some golf carts from $ 8.00 USD per hour to $ 14 USD for 2 hours and children pushcarts (from $ 6.00 USD per hour). Also, you can enjoy a 7 minutes cable car ride, taking visitors to the top of the mountain and provides a beautiful view of the city and the zoo, which will cost you $ 2.00 USD for a 2 way trip for adults, and $ 1.00 USD dollar for a 2 way trip for children. A zoo train is also available for the little ones. It also has a zoo mobile, driving you around the site, equipped with a bewildering variety of bio facts and artifacts.
You’ll be happy to find a “zoovenir” shop inside the zoo, where you can buy souvenirs to bring home, and also an African craft market, right outside the zoo.
To get to the zoo you can catch the Gautrain bus, which departs from the Pretoria station (the CBD inner P2 bus), and disembarks at the bus stop number 7 at the Pretoria zoo. Bus fees are between $ 6.00 USD to $ 10 USD per person.

Accommodation Near the Zoo

You have several bed and breakfast accommodations in the heart of Pretoria, suitable for the zoo’s visitors. Located within 1 to 2 km away from the zoo, they are not your average 4 or 5 stars hotel, but the service is good, the rooms are clean (cleaned once a day) with satellite TV most of the time. The breakfast is included in the price for most of these hotels, if not, they offer a self-catering section in the rooms.

Pretoria Zoo - May 2012 009 -
	National Zoological Gardens
Pretoria Zoo - May 2012 009 - National Zoological Gardens. Photo by John Karwoski

Arcadia Hotel

Next to the Union Buildings, the hotel also includes a restaurant, a bar and lounge area, and complimentary wireless internet access. But some reviews have not been very flattering about the hotel, since some guests have complained about the cleanliness of the rooms and were not sure if internet was free.

Palm View Guest House

A convenient, clean place with a magnificent view of the city from its large terrace, it provides you with a kitchenette, a microwave oven and a swimming pool. Each room offers tea, coffee and air conditioning. The hotel is wheelchair friendly, and offers room service.

Pretoria Hof Hotel

Its services and rooms are rated as average. It’s one of the oldest hotels in Pretoria central.

Morning Star Hotel

An excellent rated hotel, but visitors sometimes complain about the quality of the food and the condition of the air conditioning. But overall, the hotel guests feel safe in its facilities, the rooms are clean, the staff is friendly and its location in Pretoria Central is just convenient for zoo visitors.

Colosseum Executive Suite

Spacious rooms, comfortable and calm. You’ll have the choice between eastern and western cuisine in their restaurant. With secure parking, 24 hours access security, a swimming pool, a sauna and a gym, it has what it takes after a long day out in the city.
The zoo does offer camping tours for those who are eager to sleep over.

	National Zoological Gardens
National Zoological Gardens. Photo by unknown

Where to Eat

There’s a picnic area close to the Apies River, inside the zoo, from where you can operate a barbecue for family and friends. You can bring along your refreshments and other snacks if you prefer but the zoo has a licensed restaurant that offers delicious takeaways, and four kiosks that supply a multitude of snacks.
Or if you prefer a more balanced meal you can book a table at these fabulous restaurants.

La Pentola

With a fusion of French and Italian dishes, all prepared with the best local products, everything is prepared from scratch.

Denver Spur

Situated in Gezina, it is a local steak house, themed around Native Americans. The setting is beautiful and their variety of steaks and steak sauce are just mouthwatering.

Nandos Sunnyside

A Portuguese grilled chicken restaurant, served with fresh salad and fries or rice, their chicken is very spicy (and tasty). Also called the best grilled chicken in town.

Geet Indian Restaurant

On Fehrsen Street, it offers a mixture of Indian and Latin cuisine and all menus are trans-fat-free. What makes this restaurant unique is that its guests can inform the restaurant’s staff about any potential allergens (that could be caused by some ingredients used in meals preparation) before they order their meals.

O’Galito Restaurant

Specializes in Portuguese cuisine, famous for its prawn platters, it’s rated as an average restaurants due to its sometimes disappointing dishes. Overall the staff is friendly, waiters are patient, the establishment is clean, and also offers late night reservations.

	National Zoological Gardens
National Zoological Gardens. Photo by unknown


The Pretoria Zoological Gardens are normally safe for visitors. Security guards patrol around all day. One must be very cautious once out of the gardens though, as organized crime is pretty much alive in South Africa. Many families have been victims of robbery once outside the zoo in recent months. In all of the related cases, it was always a group of at least five men ambushing them, after being directed by fake outside security guards to park their cars in remote areas (the zoo’s parking area was full) . If you decide to rent a car during your stay in Pretoria, and want to go visit the National Zoo, be very suspicious of these outside guards. If you have trouble finding parking outside, try to contact the zoo’s management instead.

Other Similar Attractions

  • Tiergarten Schonbrunn in Vienna Austria
  • Bronx Zoo, in the Bronx New York
  • Singapore Zoo, in Mandia Singapore
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Orlando Florida
  • Berlin Zoological Garden in Germany.

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    Author: Comasco. Last updated: Dec 14, 2014


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