More than meets the eye

In the past the main reasons for the existence of public zoological gardens were for recreation, fun and some visitor education. And, of course, to help conserve endangered species through international breeding programmes.

Now, as the world becomes more environment conscious, education is more important than ever.

The Johannesburg Zoo’s education centre hosts exhibits, lectures, videos and workshops. Teachers can arrange programmes with the zoo to suit requirements. Worksheets are provided.

“The new school curriculum is linked with the Constitution – it centres on a healthy environment and respect for all living things, social justice and equality,” says Louise Matschke, the zoo’s curriculum specialist, who sets up programmes for schools.

She says that a theme such as biodiversity can be linked to subjects such as English, maths and geography.

“We give out a booklet for three phases in primary school,” says Matschke, noting that, in the past, most school visitors to the zoo were in the lower grades. “Now we are trying to get more high school learners involved. We have had calls from mostly private schools asking us to put special programmes together.

“Last year a grade 11 class asked for a programme on river health and wetlands and their link with human health. We conducted tests on water bodies in the zoo, for example in the hippo camp, to see how they would affect human health.”

Matschke says many high school learners visit the zoo for the classification programme – to learn how animals, plants and chemicals are divided. “Other popular programmes are dentition – looking at the animals’ teeth – and feeding habits,” she says.

The zoo’s discovery centre, once a restaurant, houses a DVD auditorium (where a video is narrated in English, Afrikaans, Zulu or Sesotho) and a touch museum, featuring an exhibit on body coverings – a selection of skins, scales and feathers – which children can touch and feel. They can also stroke stuffed animals, including a white lion and a Bengal tiger.

Community service for high school learners is run throughout the year, which enables them to put in a certain number of hours for portfolio projects. “Working with animals, such as cleaning out animals’ quarters, is hard labour,” says Matschke. Despite the sweat, great fun is had by all.

The new farmyard, Badger Glen Farm, is cartoon-like and child-oriented with water fountains, coloured movable blocks to encourage children to match pictures with words, and an analogue clock that simultaneously shows digital time to mark Farmer Badger’s day.

The zoo also runs a van that goes out to schools by request as part of its “Zoo to You” programme, allowing children at school to meet birds, reptiles and small animals, including hedgehogs and furry ferrets.

The Jo’burg Zoo is open from 8.30am to 5.30pm. Cost for school groups, R15 a person, including programmes. Call 011 646 2000. For more information, visit

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