A Guide to Cape Town’s Abandoned Groote Schuur Zoo

by - January 05, 2023

As you may have noticed, I am quite a fan of unusual attractions, urban exploration and strange or abandoned places. There is something about eerie crumbling buildings slowly being reclaimed by nature that is incredibly alluring. When I heard that there was an abandoned zoo just minutes from where I live in Cape Town, I really wanted to go. 

If you are interested in abandoned places and urban decay, the Groote Schuur Zoo in Cape Town is worth a visit!

Having said that, I don’t live in the safest city and so going alone was not an option. I have suggested this outing to a number of other people and they all seemed a bit wary. But then my favourite travel companion, Bronwyn (who frequently makes cameos on my blog and on my Instagram), came to town and she was keen. 

Inside the lion cage at Cape Town’s abandoned Groote Schuur Zoo

Where is Cape Town's abandoned Groote Schuur Zoo?

The abandoned zoo falls on the property of the University of Cape Town. The UCT Campus, the Zoo and the Rhodes Memorial collectively make up what used to be considered the Rhodes Estate. 

I contacted one of the few UCT students I know to ask her if she had been there, if she had any tips about visiting or if it was a really bad idea altogether. (She had accidentally hit me in the face the previous day, giving me a massive swollen lip. So giving me some info was the least she could do. In retrospect, if I was concerned for our safety, I should have invited her along for protection. She has quite the arm!)

Exterior view of the lion enclosure at Cape Town’s abandoned Groote Schuur Zoo

How to get to the abandoned zoo:


By private car:

I was told that you can drive onto the UCT property, follow the road to the left and park near the zoo. I don’t know if it’s all the parking that is restricted or just some of it, but you can be fined for parking in certain places without a university parking permit. However, if you happen to go on a weekend during exam time like we did, it’s unlikely that anyone is going to give you a hard time. 

Our intentions were just to go and have a look and only explore if we felt safe. We got there to find a wedding party having their photos taken among the abandoned buildings. Interesting choice! But what does having wedding pics at a zoo say about your relationship?

By public transport:

While there are obviously buses that take students to the university, if you are visiting Cape Town from elsewhere, the best way to travel here would be by a ride-share service like Uber. 

Blogger behind bars at Cape Town’s abandoned Zoo


The history of the abandoned zoo

Cecil John Rhodes was a mining magnate and the prime minister of the Cape Colony between 1890 and 1896. The zoo was originally established as his menagerie in 1896. It was opened to the public as a zoo in 1931 at the request of Rhodes who had already passed away in 1902. Somewhat considered to be the architect of Apartheid, Rhodes is quite a complicated and controversial character in South Africa’s history but he definitely made a significant impact on it. He’s also the 'Rhodes' behind the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship and the reason Cape Town has squirrels. 

According to Wikipedia, the zoo closed down somewhere between 1975 and 1985 which seems super vague. You would think someone would be able to narrow it down! Its closure is said to have resulted from the financial burden of the zoo on the government (originally it had been free of charge) and increased animal welfare standards. 

Vines grow on a cage at Cape Town’s Groote Schuur Zoo

A map of the original Groote Schuur Zoo: 

Image credit: Stewart Harris

The structures available to explore: 

As you enter the property from the parking lot, you can see the remains of what was once a water feature for waterfowl: 

Dried out waterfowl pond at Groote Schuur Zoo

Located on the side of Table Mountain, a central pathway leads you uphill to what was once the zoo’s focal point and highlight, the lion enclosure:

Blogger stands on Groote Schuur Zoo's central pathway


Blogger sits overlooking lion enclosure at Cape Town’s abandoned Zoo


To the left, is this structure, which is what appears to be the ruins of a rondavel on the opposite side from where it is depicted in the map above:

Ruins at abandoned Groote Schuur Zoo

Behind the lion enclosure, are these cages:

Empty cage at Groote Schuur Zoo

Safety Tips

  • Don’t venture into the actual buildings. As tempting as it is, there is evidence that homeless people are seeking shelter here. 
  • Go in a group. (Ideally a larger group than we did.)
  • If you’re foreign, take a South African. Our ingrained safety culture is different from yours. 
  • Use caution when exploring and stay away from any structures that appear unstable. 
  • Generally be mindful of your surroundings at all times.
  • Go during daylight


Eery window from lion enclosure at Cape Town’s abandoned zoo

Animals that were once found here:

  • Lions
  • Leopards 
  • Emus 
  • Crocodiles 
  • Tahrs (some sort of Himalayan mountain goat) - Apparently these escaped onto Table Mountain and their descendants still get the occasional spotting to this day. 
  • The common starling found in South Africa is also believed to be a zoo escapee.

Nature reclaiming empty cage at abandoned zoo in Cape Town

Animals that are now found here:

  • Wedding parties
  • The odd runner (and sometimes their dogs)
  • Homeless people seeking shelter 
  • Stray UCT students
  • The occasional aspirant model/influencer and hired photographer or Instagram husband
  • And the rarely-spotted cougar:

Please let me know of any other relatively safe abandoned places or urbex sites to explore in Cape Town? And be sure to subscribe for more content like this.

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Other things to do in the area:

The Rhodes Memorial is a short drive away. You don’t have to get back on the highway to get there. Access is free and it is a great lookout point over the city. 

Blogger poses like lion statue at the Rhodes Memorial in Cape Town
The cougar visiting her cousins


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2 comments

  1. This is such a cool post. I love finding unique places to explore. Your pictures are great and this really looks like a fun idea.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wow! Seems like a beautiful place even abandoned.

    ReplyDelete