Tygerberg Zoo

Klipheuwel Rd, 7599 Cape Town, Western Cape

☎: 021 884 4494


Tygerberg Zoo was a 24ha zoo near Stellenbosch, South Africa, the only zoo in the Western Cape province and the closest to Cape Town. It was privately run. It was established in 1979, operated for 33 years, and closed in 2012. It was "once a major tourist attraction and a hot spot for school educational outings" according to Cape Times coverage of its closure. Featured animals included chimpanzees and tigers, lions, and cheetahs. The zoo had 160 bird species and 63 reptile species, and "specialised in breeding rare and endangered animals."The zoo was notable for its breeding successes, including the 1998 birth of "the world’s tiniest tortoise", a baby Namaqua Speckled.It is also attracted international attention for John Spence's finding lions in captivity in Russia that were covered in the news as possible descendants of the extinct Cape lion species, and his bringing two of them back to the Tygerberg Zoo. Cape lions were a black-maned, large, and otherwise distinctive species of lion native to South Africa. They were hunted to extinction in the wild in the 1850s and soon believed to have no survivors in captivity. John Spence was long intrigued by stories of Cape lions, including their scaling the walls of General van Riebeeck's castle in the 17th century (Jan van Riebeeck (1619–1670) was the founder of Cape Town.) Spence believed some Cape Lions might have been taken to Europe and interbred with other lions. He spent 30 years searching zoos and circuses world-wide, for lions that looked like Cape lions, until a friend sent photographs of lions in the Novosibirsk Zoo in Novosibirsk, Russia that did, in 2000. A black-maned lion named Simon, descended from lions the zoo acquired in 1961, perhaps from a traveling circus, was the best specimen. He was exactly like Cape lions' in paintings (the only images available) that Spence had studied. John and Lorraine Spence visited and, with assistance of a Vienna zoo, were allowed to bring two of Simon's cubs back to Tygerberg Zoo.

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