Hello everyone! I am very happy to finally present my long-promised review of the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa. This review has been a long time coming, as I have been back in the States for almost a year and a half at this point, but life unfortunately got in the way of me fulfilling my original intent of providing a full account of my time spent living in South Africa. In that time, I have graduated from university, completed several internships, and am now in the process of interviewing for some full-time positions, which is what has given me the time to finally write this review! I am hoping to piece together that account over the next couple of months, but I figured that a review of the National Zoo of South Africa is what would be of most interest on ZooChat, so that is where I will begin. Given the sheer size of the zoo, my review will be broken up across a series of posts. Without further ado, the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa, or the Pretoria Zoo as it is more commonly referred to as locally, is an absolutely massive zoo, sprawling across 210 acres, with a long and evident history, having been founded during the outbreak of the Second Boer War in 1899, and an impressive collection. The zoo’s long history and South Africa’s turbulent political and economic history has resulted in a boom and bust cycle in the zoo’s funding. This cycle of rapid progress and long periods of stagnation are evident in the mish-mash of exhibitry styles, featuring Victorian era houses, aviaries, and postage stamp yards, mid-century round houses and post-modern architectural buildings, as well as several attempts at modern immersion exhibits, and the zoo’s general feel of being dirty, overgrown, and unkempt. The zoo and its infrastructure are showing their age in many areas, and you can tell that regular maintenance is lacking. It is all quite the shame because, overall, the zoo is quite nice and has a lot of potential, but given that it is nationally funded, and given South Africa's current unstable political and economic climate, funding for the zoo has fallen by the wayside yet again. . With that said, it is time for the review! I will do my best to review the zoo as one would if they were visiting the zoo; however, I never explored the zoo from this perspective! I actually lived on zoo grounds in the former director’s house in the far back corner of the zoo’s property, so I always traversed the zoo from the opposite end of the zoo from the entrance. The entrance to the zoo is a very attractive architectural building and is one of the more beautiful zoo entrances I have seen. Directly beyond the entrance are a series of towering fig trees (the zoo is beautifully planted… in parts. In others it is overgrown or barren. It apparently is (or was) home to one of the largest collections of exotic plants in the country), an obligatory group photo trap, and the golf cart rental… Yes, the zoo rents out golf carts to the general public to drive about the zoo grounds. Let me tell you, after everything I saw over the course of my time living at the zoo, I have no idea how this has been allowed to continue… Beyond this, the zoo opens up, and pathways lead to the left and the right and straight ahead. The zoo follows a main “Zoo Loop”, which is fully accessible to the golf carts and features the majority of the most popular species, but there are many off-shoots and interconnecting paths, as well. That combined with the zoo’s size and the horrible map make it quite difficult to navigate once you leave the loop. Immediately to your left upon entering is a very large and very lush lemur island, complete with fully accessible trees, wooden climbing platforms, and some mock-rock structures. It is one of, if not the, most beautiful lemur enclosures I have seen in a zoological facility, and it would not be out of place at any major American or European zoo; however, it apparently has some functional flaws because for the entirety of my stay at the zoo the island remained empty because the lemurs had escaped. No fear, however, I still saw my fair share of lemurs! The zoo has an extremely large population of ring-tailed lemurs spread out across five other exhibits around the zoo, plus additional exhibits for brown and black-and-white ruffed lemur, the latter of which have since left the collection. If you were to follow the path around the lemur island, you would reach the entrance to the Reptile Park; however, I will review this section of the park later. If you continue straight out of the entrance you will reach a pair of yards complete with a series of concrete pools and streams for flamingos, waterfowl, and cranes. The smaller yard on the left is home to a mixed colony of American and Chilean flamingos. This yard is your average flamingo yard with an average sized pool, a muddy area for nesting, and some decorative plantings. It is nothing special, but it is also not unlike a flamingo yard you would see at an American zoo either. It is separated from the second yard by a narrow pathway that leads to one of the zoo’s restaurants (not in operation for the entirety of my stay at the zoo) and the African bush elephant exhibit. In contrast to the first yard, the second yard is absolutely massive and is home to a mixed colony of greater and lesser flamingos, a pair of demoiselle cranes, a pair of black-necked swans, and various African waterfowl, including African black, yellow-billed, and maccoa ducks. It is one of if not the largest waterfowl exhibits I have ever seen, featuring a large, wrap-around pond, giant shade trees, expansive grassy areas, and a mud flat area for breeding. It is quite something to look at, and the plaster-white and stone façade of the bear house-turned gift shop and offices behind it adds to the picturesque scene and sense of nostalgia. Across from second yard is a large picnic lawn and a series of large antique aviaries for both native South African species and a few exotics. The largest of these is a long and narrow flight cage for a large breeding flock of Cape vultures. While obviously dated, the aviary has great height and is long enough for these massive birds to attain powered flight. The sides of the aviary have numerous platforms at various heights for perching and nesting. The zoo has had quite some success breeding these birds, with a number of offspring from this flock having been returned to the wild. The rest of the aviaries in this area are tucked away in a row behind the vulture flight aviary. Moving from right to left, the first aviary is the largest and appears as though it was created by knocking out the dividers between a number of smaller aviaries like the remaining two in the row. It is quite long and narrow but unfortunately lacks the great height of the vulture aviary. This aviary is quite well planted and features a number of perches and a small pool for its inhabitant, which include a pair of southern grey crowned cranes, green junglefowl, superb starlings, and a pair of blue duikers. The two remaining aviaries are home to a single wattled and a pair of blue cranes, respectively. Both of these aviaries are much smaller and feature little more than a small pond and some tall grass. While the first aviary is quite nice for its inhabitants, albeit a little unkempt and with a ceiling that is too low for the cranes to attain much flight beyond flying up and down from the perching, I would consider the final two aviaries too small for their inhabitants. From this row of aviaries, a curved, sloped pathway leads up to a semicircular raised, covered viewing area for the zoo’s chimpanzee exhibit. The viewing area wraps around the front of the exhibit, and you look down and out across the exhibit from behind mesh viewing windows. The chimpanzee exhibit is a small grassy, walled yard (complete with an ugly and worn rainforest mural) with a number of mock-rock mounds, wooden climbing frames, palm trees, a tire swing, and a small pond. While quite small and forgettable with the need for some additional climbing and enrichment opportunities, I cannot say that the exhibit would have been bad for the zoo’s two male chimpanzees. That said, like with the lemur island, the chimpanzee exhibit remained empty for the entirety of my stay at the zoo, as they, too, had escaped. Once you exit the chimpanzee exhibit, you immediately come upon a small brick building that would look like nothing more than a restroom block or storage building if it was not for a small plastic sign with a tarantula on it reading “Creepy Crawlies”. If anything is to give you the creepy crawlies, it is the building itself! The entrance and exit are through dirty plastic flaps and there is no lighting on the inside, making it very dark and uncomfortable. It is nearly impossible to see into the series of five or six small, hobbyist-style terrariums for various species of tarantulas and scorpions. Needless to say, I only ever went in that building once! Across from the creepy, crawly Creepy Crawlies building is the zoo’s biggest attempt at a themed exhibit, Stormy Bay. Stormy Bay is supposed to be themed around a mythical shipwreck-ridden South African bay and was originally intended to house the zoo’s Cape fur seals and African penguins; however, the African penguins have never moved over, and, instead, the zoo’s colony of South American fur seals have moved down from their dilapidated pool on the opposite side of the zoo and rotate in and out of the main exhibit and a behind-the-scenes pool with the Capes. The shipwreck theme is carried across with various old ship parts scattered around the visitor space, including a life boat that guests can climb inside, and a mural of a shipwreck painted on the backside of the building. The exhibit itself is quite large, featuring a large pool and quite a bit of land for the seals to haul themselves out and lounge upon. While I’m sure the exhibit was designed with good intentions, and it is a perfectly functional exhibit for its inhabitants, it does not come together well, and it appears as though they ran out of money during construction. The backside of the exhibit features a mock-rock outcropping, and there are a couple of other mock-rock mounds, but the rest of the exhibit is bare, sleek concrete with pealing, bright orange paint… The pool was never more than half filled for the entirety of my time at the zoo, and while there was a tunnel leading to an underwater viewing area, it remained blocked off with the windows boarded up. It is another case where the zoo has a lot of potential, but it just doesn’t have the resources to follow through. That is all for Part I of my review, but Part II will be up shortly and will feature the miscellaneous collection of carnivores, primates, and birds-of-prey and the impressive Watering Hole exhibit that call the quietest corner of the zoo home.