Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Jo'burg Zoo's shop : packed with ticky-tacky crapware

I was crestfallen visiting the new shop at the Johannesburg Zoo last weekend to find it stuffed to the gunwhales with gimcracks, gewgaws, gizmos and other crappy toys, fresh out of a container just shipped in from China.

(Not that I don't appreciate cheap whizz-bang toys: on the contrary, I adore novelty flashers, farters and squeakers, and until recently ran a thriving garage business peddling these marvels to parents, kids and schools.)

But, hell's bells, can't the Johannesburg Zoo do better than this (see left)?

Okay, to give them credit, there were about a dozen hand-made offerings from the excellent African Toyshop, such as pull-along wooden frogs, painted wooden vans and buses, and the like, but the prices for these started at around R350. There were also a couple of nice rope swings, a few locally made T-shirts, and one or two other hand-crafted items.

The rest was drek: crudely painted turduettes of the Big Five, sloganned caps and Bratz-style colouring-in books printed on bogroll-quality paper.

If I was a hard-working, passionate African craftsperson, eager to find a buzzing outlet for my beautiful beading, my sculptures, my funky screenprints, my hand-painted pots, I would lie on the floor and sob at the sight of this sorry excuse for a shop.

And really, the Zoo has no excuse for this lapse in taste. In all (ok, most) other respects, Johannesburg's Zoo is just splendid. It's spacious, leafy, clean, beautifully laid out and so interesting, especially if you take the time to explore the smaller denizens, which footle quietly about in their well-kept little habitats. (I've become very attached to the lonesome otter, the skittish lemurs, the owls - who are so stern and enigmatic - and the dear, silly-billy baby chimps).

I used to hate the Johannesburg Zoo (and all zoos, and most animals, for that matter), but I've changed my mind about it. When I was a gal in the Seventies, the JHB Zoo was a frightful place. Lions, tigers, panthers and other big cats paced up and down in ghastly, tiny cells*; the concreted bear pit was a vision of hell, and the baboons swaggered around with swollen, shiny, warty blue-and-pink bums that really offended my nascent sexuality.

The whole place stank to high heaven. Especially stinky was the giant, orange, pumpkin-shaped children's toilet block, which had overflowing miniature lavatories and a deep air of menace. Bees got into your Fanta Grape Can and stung your lips. The candy-floss was sticky. The ill-tempered Shetland pony in the farmyard always bit your hand, hard, when you offered it a carrot. And you always, always, threw up on the back seat on the way home.

I don't mean to put you off. If you have small kids, and want to give them a bit of a romp in a big, airy, forested place, with no stinkiness, take them to the Zoo. Go early, when the place is empty and the air is still crisp.

And do avoid the shop.

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tonypark said...


Taronga Zoo here in Sydney is exactly the same, in all respects (used to be horrible, now is quite nice, shop is full of crap).

I was in contact recently with the Kirstenbosch Brank fo the Botanic(al?) Society of SA who informed me they were selling my books in the Kirstenbosch gift shop.

As far as I could remember there were no gardening scenes in any of my books and very few mentions of plants as all, except for Mopane (the only African tree I can actually identify).

The lovely lady who runs the shop told me that they had bus loads of Germans (and other foreign tourists) through the gardens and for some, such as those off cruise ships stopping at Cape Town, Kirstenbosch's was the only shop they encountered on their whirlwind tour of Cape Town.

So, the gardens wised up and now stock a nice selection of trashy fiction and worthy non fiction with an African bent.

And they're making lots of money for the botanic(al) society and the gardens.

So, I say, less cheap crappy plastic lions for Jo'burg Zoo and more Tony Park novels (which contain lots and lots of references to African fauna).

tonypark said...

Oh, and by the way, Juno, how sneaky are YOU?!

Snapping digital pictures of a shop with the sole purpose of publicly ridiculing its stock!


(And good job).

Juno said...

I shoot from the hip (literally). Yeah, I agree we need more Tony Park books in the zoo shop. Interesting point about the Kirstenbosch shop...

Muriel said...

My childhood memories of Joburg Zoo are exceedingly fond -- clearly, I was too young and clueless to see how nasty it was. 'Monkey nuts' (in their shells) and Pez sweeties. The great adventure (tinged with danger) of walking under Jan Smuts Avenue through that tunnel (is it still there?). The scary funk of the reptile house. The petting zoo with its dear little hamster village. And, on our birthdays, an ice cream cake at the tea room. Ah, those were the days.

Pilgrim said...

A Johannesburg Zoo memory: I was there, infant daughter in arms, when a young giraffe escaped from her enclosure and headed up the avenue towards the War Memorial, then doubled back past the elephants (who ignored her). But the rest of us were enchanted as she went loping and clattering past, managing that deceptively slow rocking-horse gait even though she was pretty panicked. In my memory bank, that one is filed like a dream.
But the best, the best of all, were the capybaras. Hamster-shaped, dog-sized gaucho boys.