Overnight at the zoo


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Environmental Education Weekend At The Pretoria National Zoo

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By Alan Reynolds

Friday night found me hard at work in Karen Hauptfleisch’s kitchen manufacturing 80 bags of popcorn in preparation for the weekends SOAPkidz event to be held at the National Zoo in Pretoria. The rest of the food for the event also arrived as the night wore on, and I decided to just keep on making popcorn leaving everyone else to sort out unloading, stacking and sorting the growing mountain of supplies. As usual there was much merriment and plenty of jokes, mostly at the expense of people who spend their Friday nights making popcorn!

By the time the children, mainly from Jabulani community centre, arrived at the Waterhole dormitories on Saturday all was calm and organized. Everyone was quickly assigned beds and given lunch, organized into teams of six or seven children with two volunteers per team. The setting couldn’t have been better situated beside a waterhole enclosure stocked with animals from the African savannah.

The afternoon was spent criss crossing the zoo grounds with a Zoo Game devised by Leon to both educate and exhaust the children. Wearing our brightly coloured yellow and orange bibs us volunteers were frequently mistaken for zoo officials and asked directions and involved questions about the fauna by members of the public. One gentleman complained that he couldn’t see the lions in their enclosure, he followed us back there. As I approached, the invisible lions decided to stand up and stroll around to be admired; my complainant looked at me as if I were a magician. The children were educated on animals and the environment; they were fascinated, excited and enthusiastic. Lions and komodo dragons emerged as clear favourites. The volunteers were exhausted! Supper of wors rolls and salad renewed the children’s energy and slightly revived the volunteers. The teams presented a concert with much singing dancing and hilarity.

After supper Zoo staff led us for an informative evening ramble through the Zoo, apart from facts on animals and animal conservation we stopped on the banks of the Apies River to discuss river pollution. Despite the best efforts of staff litter still could be seen washing in from the city. All teams had been issued with black plastic bags to collect litter, but the river was out of bounds for safety reasons. Invasive plants were also discussed. People seemed a bit confused between the indigenous naboom, a euphorbia, and the introduced Queen of the Night cactus. Having a vision of enthusiastic green warriors chopping down euphorbia forests I bored everyone within earshot with a detailed description of the differences between the two species.

The lions once again emerged as favourites. A personal highlight of the ramble was when one of the youngest girls, riding on Theo’s shoulders, asked (staring hard at my beard) “Are you Jesus?” For some reason I replied “ No, I’m Jesus’ brother”. Just as seriously she said to Theo “ I want to ride on his shoulders!”

Back at the waterhole the Zoo staff handed out questionnaires and asked the children questions about what they heard and felt around them. A surprise answer to the query about the loudest sound heard was the completely silent gemsbok; apparently the child who answered believed as it was the biggest animal he could see at that moment it must make the loudest sound! As none of the kids seemed tired we took them for an impromptu night hike after the official activities were over. It was a wonderful experience to wander in pitch darkness, listening to the chorus of frogs and other night creatures, the sky lit up now and again by lightning. After this everyone finally settled down to peaceful sleep.

Sunday morning two groups had breakfast, two groups went animal viewing and two groups listened to Leon’s talk on crime prevention. Each half hour the groups rotated. When everyone had finished the general consensus seemed to be that drugs are bad news, monkeys are fun and two serves of weetbix are much better than one.

The rest of the morning was spent picking up more litter while wandering around finding new animals and revisiting favourites. Yes, we walked up to the lions again; my legs were beginning to ache. Lunch was served, prizes were awarded and photos taken. The community bus arrived to ferry a tired and contented group of children back to Eersterus.

A BIG THANK YOU to the following people;

  • Parks Leshaba, Elize de Jager and the wonderful staff from the Pretoria zoo. Your passion was contagious and we are looking forward to a long lasting partnership.
  • Sharron Reynolds, for taking care of everyone.
  • Kilnerpark Super Spar who provided food and refreshments.
  • The children attending the event – you made us all realise once again how precious children are
  • And last but not least, the SOAPkidz volunteers.

Thank you, together we made a difference.

All is well in Africa

SOAPkidz overnight at the Pretoria Zoo

Event Info

WHO: 50 children from the Injabula Community Centre and adventurous volunteers

WHEN: Saturday 9 October 2010, 12h00 till Sunday 10 October 2010, 13h00

WHERE: Pretoria Zoo

WHY: To experience another adventure: besides teaching the children how to take care of some animals, we will have several green adventures along the way. And of course, we will do our general thing which is to leave the place in a better way whilst having loads of fun and learning something new.


  • Your sense of humour
  • Comfortable shoes and clothing, hat, sunscreen, snacks, small backpack, waterbottle


Please contact Noeksie at noeksie@soapkidz.org if you would like to volunteer for this amazing event a.s.a.p


Saturday 9 October 2010:
11.30 – 12.00am Children and Volunteers to meet at the staff entrance of the Zoo
12.00 – 12.30am Eliz de Jager will meet us and take us to the Dormitories to settle in.
12.30 – 1.30pm Lunch & sort Children and volunteers into groups
1.30 – 4.00pm Zoo game
4.00 – 5.00pm Supper
5.00pm to bed time Parks will take over for a Cleanup activity & Littering activity followed by a night tour and making use of your senses activity.

Sunday 10 October 2010:
6.30 – 9.00am Talk by Leon on Crime prevention - Breakfast / Pack up
9.00 – 11.00am Assist Titus with horticulture activities
11.00 – 1.00pm Making of funky hats / bird feeders
1.00 – 2pm Lunch
2.00pm Kids go home.

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