Aziz Hartley

TYGERBERG ZOO, once a major tourist attraction and a hot spot for school educational outings, has been sold and will close down by the end of the year.

High maintenance costs and dwindling visitor numbers have forced the decision to sell the 25 hectare property where the zoo was located about 40km outside Cape Town, said the sad owner, Lorraine Spence.

In almost four decades of existence, the zoo has been home to a variety of animals and in its heyday had busloads of visitors streaming through its gates.

After about 10 years of struggling to make ends meet, though, the zoo has become unsustainable, Spence said.

She wouldn’t disclose what the selling price was, but said it would be “just about enough to cover my debts”.

“I have 24 staff, some with up to 33 years service, who will be retrenched and have to be paid. I also have four people who live on the farm and for whom I will have to buy homes. It is sad. We are like family.

“I also owe the municipality a lot of money,” Spence said.

She said the buyer had a farm equipment manufacturing businesses near Paarl.

The property was zoned as agricultural land.

Spence said great care was being taken to relocate the animals. The chimpanzees would be moved to a “modern home” at the Drakenstein Lion Park.

“It will be called Chimp Haven. The lions and the tigers will also have sanctuary there,” Spence said. The springboks would relocated to a Darling farm while the reptiles were sold to accredited zoo owners elsewhere in the country, she said.

Spence said most of the animals would still be on view for some time while entry fees would be reduced from June 1.

Spence said Tygerberg Zoo had become unsustainable. Animal feed cost R120 000 a month and salaries were R100 000.

“This excludes water, electricity, maintenance etc,” Spence said.

Abraham Snyman, who looked after the zoo’s reptile park and who worked there for years, said while he was sad about it having to shut down, he understood why.

“I’ve already got another job and I’m starting in July.”

[email protected]