Cairobserver — Giza Zoo, 1891

Giza Zoo, 1891

Khedive Ismail (1863-1879), the ruler of Egypt, was the first to think of opening the Zoo on the occasion of the inauguration of the Suez Canal in 1869 but he could not do so for the lack of enough time.  On March 1, 1891, the Zoo at Giza was opened for the public.

It was first established to be a botanical garden, with various imported rare species of the most beautiful plants and cactus all over the world.

Its area is about 80 acres. It is located near the west bank of the Nile. Its northern tip overlooks Cairo University. It has five gates at each direction. The Zoo is under the supervision of the Ministry of Agriculture in Egypt. Read more here.

Like the Agricultural Museum, the Zoo is another gem under the supervision of the Ministry of Agriculture, which explains its current state. However, the zoo continues to be well used by couples and families who frequent the zoo and use it as a park. There is plenty of grass and lots of exotic trees to sit under. The ticket for is 1 or 2 Egyptian Pounds (17-34 US cents) which means it is practically free and anyone can go.

The Zoo was once considered one of the best in the world but like everything else, in the last 30 years it has increasingly fell into disrepair and bad management with almost no funding allocated to it. But also like everything else here, this didn’t mean the end of this historic zoo which is brimming with social life and exotic animals. This said the place needs some serious TLC, it was recently dropped from the International Federation of Zoos due to poor conditions but since then a new director has been trying to better run the place. The turning point might have been the publicity one vet got who claimed that he had tested human birth control pills to control the over population of lions with %20 success rate!

Despite its less than perfect current state of affairs this place is $10 million dollars short of being amazing. (nothing when you think of the $550 million being spent on Zahi Hawass’ new Egyptian Museum). In a city with much needed green space, the zoo functions like a park. But it also does what zoos always did, get kids and urban people in general close up to nature (through some green iron bars usually) but still there is nothing like seeing a child witness the rawr of a lion for the first time.

Architecturally speaking this place is incredible, there are so many gems I can’t begin to list them all but my favorite highlights include: The Lion House built in 1901, The Lagoon in the center of the zoo surrounded by beautiful wooden decks (the lagoon is now empty and this part is inaccessible), a 1924 Japanese Kiosk that was built on the occasion of the Japanese Emperor’s visit to Cairo (King Foad and the Emperor visited the zoo and the kiosk which housed a display of Japanese animals and plants), and the remaining original 1890s paving with ornate patterns. In addition the Zoo’s five gates are really beautiful 1930s additions that replaced the older gates and they have various sculptural motifs adorning the streamline modernist gates. Perhaps one of the most important architectural features is the suspension bridge designed and built by Gustave Eiffel.

Like many sites in Cairo the Zoo has been reduced to a joke to most people, once I say Giza Zoo the response is one of mockery. Ignorance is one thing but losing the sense of adventure to go for yourself and see what’s there is just laziness. The state could have kept up the Zoo along with the Agricultural Museum for Cairenes but also to add two major destinations in the city for tourists with children and families, alas this is not what Saudi investors who dominate touristic development in Egypt care about.

The campus of Cairo University encroached on the western corner of the zoo sometime in the 1950s-60s but still the zoo maintains its airy feeling and the city feels so far away when you are in some parts. This is a great place for a picnic or even for walking and jogging. It takes about 3 hours to leisurely cover most of the paths.

Some Egyptians haven’t forgotten about the animals and are using this opportunity of post-revolution Egypt to bring attention to the conditions of the animals. Read more here.

Go to the Zoo, Spread the word about this great place, and let’s bring it back to its status as one of the world’s greatest zoos.

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