30 July 2014 by Christine Marot

Discover Durban's Mitchell Park Zoo

Durban’s only zoo has a wide variety of species such as duiker, raccoon, wallaby, mongoose, marmoset, as well many beautiful endemic and exotic birds, including flamingos, scarlet ibises and hornbills.

The park's colourful flowerbeds are redesigned and replanted every season. Image Christine Marot

Looking on to the green lawns and colourful flowerbeds of Mitchell Park Zoo in Morningside, Durban, requires some stretch of the imagination to picture lions and leopards padding around the park zoo less than a century ago.

Although originally created as an ostrich farm in 1910 in honour of Sir Charles Bullen Hugh Mitchell – governor of the British Colony of Natal and Zululand from 1881 to 1882 – Mitchell Park was later repurposed as a zoo.

The undisputed attraction of the day was Nellie, an Indian elephant donated to the zoo by the Maharajah of Mysore in 1928. Legend has it that Nellie played a mouth organ and enthralled visitors by cracking coconuts under her feet and letting children ride on her back. More than 20 000 children attended her birthday party in 1948. In Nellie’s day the zoo housed other large animals, including a lion, leopard and crocodiles.

The flamingo enclosure at Mitchell Park Zoo. Image by Christine Marot

Nellie’s modern-day counterpart is Admiral, a 103-year-old Aldabra tortoise left at the zoo in a cigarette box for safekeeping by a naval officer leaving for the battlefront in 1915 during World War I. Admiral is housed with a number of other giant Aldabra tortoises that are native to the Seychelles.

Today, Durban’s only zoo is rather more sedate, with a wider variety of small species: duiker, raccoon, wallaby, mongoose, marmoset and many beautiful endemic and exotic birds, including flamingos, scarlet ibises and hornbills. A walk-through aviary allows visitors to get really close to some of the zoo’s feathered species.

Children also take pleasure in the freedom of the large, open lawns where they can run around, kick a ball and enjoy the sunshine. There’s also a sand-filled playground where jungle gyms, slides and swings prove an irresistible attraction.

The most striking feature of Mitchell Park is its immaculate flower gardens, with colourful flowerbeds that are redesigned and replanted every season.

While the children enjoy the playground, parents can relax under the trees with a picnic spread, or enjoy a meal at the Blue Zoo restaurant overlooking the park.

Visitors in wheelchairs and moms pushing prams will find it easy to negotiate the parks pathways, ramps and zoo.

Entry to the zoo is nominal at R10 per adult, R7 per child and R4 for pensioners. It’s open daily from 8am to 4pm.

The playground is well used by children of all ages. Image by Christine Marot

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