New zoo to open near Kruger National Park
A new zoo on the outskirts of Mbombela in Mpumalanga, less than an hour away from the Kruger National Park (KNP), is expected to open in January 2021.
The facility, Pumba Wildlife Park, is owned by Hennie and Melanie Maritz and has been embroiled in controversy for months, as residents and animal rights activists in the province are vehemently opposed to the establishment of the zoo and have levelled staunch criticism at it. The owners invited the media and other concerned parties to a tour of the facility with the aim of dispelling rumours of ‘breeding and trading, animal neglect, and the lack of sufficient space and permits’.
Pumba Wildlife Park holds more than 100 animals – including ‘lions (brown and white), leopards, tigers (Bengal and Siberian), pumas, jaguars, wild dogs, hyenas (spotted, striped and brown), blue duikers, black-backed jackals, bat-eared foxes, an ocelot, African wild cats, caracals, servals, Cape foxes, small and large spotted genets, hedgehogs, fennec foxes, rock hyraxes, northern racoons, coati bears, red-rumped agoutis, a Geoffrey’s cat, banded, water and yellow mongooses, Pole cats, spotted eagles, lanner falcons, ostriches, porcupines, warthogs, springboks and blesboks,’ according to The Lowvelder.
The facility will be the first zoo in Mpumalanga, but it has been in the pipeline since the end of 2018 and was approved on July 3, 2020 by the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA), according to The Citizen.
The owners stress that all animals were acquired ethically and that everything is above board at the facility. They say they aim to provide educational opportunities, which will be research-based – with the University of Mpumalanga signalling their intent to use the facility for research and practical work, according to Mandla Macbeth Ncongwane.
Ncongwane, the attorney of the Maritz family and Pumba Wildlife Park, claims that the public’s criticism of the facility stems from a misunderstanding of the importance the presence of a zoo would make for local residents. He proffered that the zoo would create jobs and allow locals that have not been able to visit the KNP the opportunity to observe the animals.
‘People ask, ‘why build a zoo?’ The same question could be asked of why there is an aquarium in Durban. Those creating backlash are privileged. The working class want to see the zoo because it’s difficult for a person who is a general worker to go to the Kruger Park,’ said Ncongwane to The Citizen.
As of October 5, petitions – led by organisations and movements such as Ban Animal Trading and #NoZooForMpumalanga – against the zoo have amassed more than 10 000 signatures.
The issue has also garnered national attention after Carte Blanche aired an investigation into the facility.
‘If you keep wild animals captive it takes away their freedom they are supposed to enjoy. It is totally different if you have a rehabilitation centre where animals are rehabilitated and then re-introduced into the wild,’ reads the change.org petition. ‘This is not a rehabilitation centre. It will be operated in a similar fashion as a zoo. We as Lowvelders feel that the Kruger National Park offers a far better educational value to the public.’
Meanwhile, the National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA) has condemned the opening of the zoo as ‘illogical’ and ‘nonsensical’ because of its proximity to KNP, according to the Springs Advertiser.
‘It is impossible to provide the five freedoms to wild animals in captivity and these results in behavioral, emotional and physical issues,’ said Douglas Wolhuter, manager of NSPCA’s Wildlife Protection Unit.
‘It is nonsensical for tourists or locals to visit this zoo when the park is on their doorstep. We encourage the public to rather visit national parks as opposed to captive wildlife facilities. The value of a natural park is infinite in comparison to captive facilities, for both the viewer and the animals.’