I studied at the University of Cape Town for six years, and for all that time, I had no idea that there was an abandoned zoo right next to the upper campus. It was only recently when a colleague mentioned it to me that I learned of its existence. My mom and I were in the area one grey day in September, and we decided to investigate. It took us a little while to find it. It’s well hidden if you don’t know where to look. Apparently, the zoo has been abandoned since the 1970s. It has fallen into ruin, but the lion’s den is still very impressive. And very creepy. We didn’t encounter any other human beings while we investigated, but people are obviously using this place for all sorts of things. The public toilets and other small, enclosed structures appear to be occupied (we saw washing hanging out to dry at one of the blocks), and the inside of the lion’s den is full of graffiti, rubbish, and the remnants of burnt out fires. Did I mention the place is creepy? It’s worth mentioning twice. Maybe three times. It’s fucking creepy. I don’t have a good camera and I haven’t bothered to teach myself any form of photo editing, so my pictures don’t really do the place any justice, but here are a few of them anyway:
There’s something about abandoned man-made structures and spaces that is very intriguing. Humans leave their footprints all over everything, and force wild cats into cages for entertainment, but time marches on and sometimes things fall apart and then we’re left with crumbling, weed-choked ruins that draw a different sort of crowd, who leave a different sort of footprint. Awareness of the passing of time and the changing of spaces and the fact that a place can melt away into the environment and be neglected to such an extent that a lot people don’t even know it’s right there next to them… it’s amazing, and it gives me chills.
There were lions in that den. And now they’re gone.
EDIT: Because I didn’t know it existed, the zoo doesn’t form a part of my student memories, and is not emotionally significant for me in the way it was (and is) for others. A commenter on Facebook had this to say:
When I was in 2nd year a group of friends occupied the zoo and turned it into a installation of sorts- anyone could go and put up a piece of artwork or do graff etc. This was more or less around the time I was coming out so I think I chalked up some kak lame gay liberation stuff but still it was freeing. Standing on the roof of the zoo enclosure is particularly freeing as it is perfectly flat, quite large, sturdy as only a rock encased lion enclosure could be and has one of the best views over the flats. It became the de facto after school joint smoking spot for all a whole bunch of humanities kids. Unfortunately though, as time passed (like 2/3 weeks) more and more and more people started coming to it. And the weird and wonderful art installation became a ‘thing’ to gawk at. It slowly lost its tight-knit, only-we-know vibe and increasingly, the art kids would be pointed and laughed at by poppies from commerce, with their ed hardy boy friends and badly done self-tan.
The original peeps who stated it were deeply deeply bummed. So (and this part is btw purely hearsay, I wasn’t there-) they got all the art together late at night during the week, burnt it, and raved until the sun came up. Finally in the morning, as the last embers of something cool breathed their final glow of mortality, they walked up to people on campus and asking if they could trace their shadows.
That is how I remember the Zoo.