Walter Mangold has an unusual name. He also had an unusual vision, well over 30 years ago. That vision was to fill four hectares of land already overrun with port jackson with birds, trees and aviaries.
Perhaps it is the association of his name with a highly desirable mineral that has sustained his venture, despite having no official funding, for so long or possibly it is the fierce integrity with which he runs what has become the largest bird park in Africa, and one of few large bird parks in the World.
The World of Birds has everything from speckled pigeons to barbets, from flamingos via owls to the marabou stork. It’s a marvellous introduction to birds and small mammals for young children, and it’s a fantastic space in which to experience them first-hand and take photographs, if you’re an adult.
In short, it’s a day’s outing worth repeating (which you can, if you buy an annual membership) and losing a morning or two there with your children is easily done.
Photographs — Left: Squirrel monkey hitches a ride / Right: The Magic Forest
It used to be difficult to reach the World of Birds, if you were a visitor to Cape Town dependent on local transport. The road on which the bird park rests is not much frequented by even taxis, let alone regular buses, and walking up to the main road is do-able but definitely hinders one’s access.
We get there via the City Sightseeing bus. The hop-on hop-off blue mini peninsular route includes the World of Birds as one of a number of highlights. Now visitors find it easy to get here, and even locals don’t have to worry about parking, as the bus arrives and departs every 25 minutes.
If your children join the kids’ club, the sightseeing bus gives them and two friends a free trip on their birthday, which is a great incentive to behave as a visitor in your own city for a day as their parents, and really exciting for children.
World of Birds is set in the tropics in complete contradiction to the rest of Hout Bay. Take a look around you and you’re surrounded by palms, bromeliads of every hue, delicious monsters, clivias and philodendrons, euphorbias and even air plants and crotons.
The air is rent with the calls of birds, and the array of colour evident amongst the feathered fair is inspiring. 100 000 visitors traipse through here a year to come and see about 3 000 birds, and small mammals like tortoises, deer, porcupines, meerkats, wallabies, honey badger, bushbuck and monkeys. There is even a reptile enclosure.
The privately run operation is laid out along various trails with over 100 enclosures and aviaries through which you can walk largely at your own pace, using the time and the various benches along with way for reflection and quiet time (especially if you manage to get there during the week when I would imagine it is a little less busy).
Photographs — Left: Majestic dove / Centre: Magnificent eagle owl / Right: Marabou storks
The birds are highly accessible as most of them, whilst in enclosures, are seldom in cages, and there is no fence or wire mesh between you, so you’re walking right in amongst them. Signage along the routes allow one to easily identify the various birds.
The sharp-beaked, shrilly shreaking parrots though are behind mesh due to sharp pecks visitors might receive, as are the maribou storks – more to protect them, I think, than us as the babies had hatched on 30, 31 July and 12, 18 and 19th September. Signs plead not to feed them, and seed and fruit trays are in evidence in the enclosures with the types of food the birds prefer – seeds, fruit etc.
One of the highlights, even if I felt a little saddened that they were in enclosures, was the owl walk through sanctuary. These nocturnal birds are wearily patient with the consistent disturbances (including the flashes of cameras despite notices up to the contrary) of humans through their space. But the opportunity to experience these very seldom seen birds, their large, composed eyes and quietly enduring figures perched quietly in various hidden parts of the enclosure was incredible.
I am obviously not the only one struck by seeing birds in cages – even if there is a noticeable effort to make them as natural-looking as possible with lots of tropical landscaping and trees – as there are copious signs reminding visitors that if it weren’t for these enclosures and the facility, these birds would be dead. Many of them are brought to the operation having been knocked down by cars, or hurt in some way.
We don’t get to see everything on our first visit. But we do make it to the squirrel monkeys. They’re in a walk-through enclosure known as the Monkey Jungle that is very closely monitored an d only open twice during the day. Before entering someone ensures that your bag is well zipped up, that you take your earrings off (if you don’t, the squirrel monkeys will) and that any food is packed away.
Photographs — Left: Scarlet ibis / Right: Walter Mangold with the squirrel monkeys
It is in the enclosure that I meet Walter Mangold. He’s sitting quietly on the edge of a bench watching the children with the monkeys. He’s there to protect both – children and monkeys. He is rather stringent in his remonstrations with people – they are not to pet or feed the squirrel monkeys – and he’s keeping an eye out for thieves; the last time they had babies, as they do today, all three were stolen.
Walter is interesting. The first thing you notice is the intense blue of his eyes. Walter must be well into his sixties. Yet he has the energy of a man much younger. He is fit and does everything with a calm fervor, that is at once fierce and composed. Not everyone likes his manner – to be told in an admonishing tone to ‘not touch’, but then Walter is not there to please the visitors. He’s looking after the well being of his monkeys.
I ask him about how he manages to keep World of Birds going, for he has already mentioned in passing that it costs R500 000 a month to do so – he has 40 full-time employees, and needs to feed all his birds and animals, and some must go towards maintenance.
He smiles and acknowledges that from one month to the next it is touch and go. But there is something tangibly spiritual about him. He makes a gesture that includes the space and sky, and you know that much of what happens here is guided by something outside of Walter Mangold.
World of Birds is a Sri Chinmoy Peace Bird Park – a worldwide family of over 800 significant landmarks dedicated to peace as part of the Sri Chinmoy Peace-Blossoms. Sri Chinmoy is a global ambasador of peace who has dedicated his life to the pursuit of world peace and to the fulfilment of the unlimited potential of the human spirit.
The squirrel monkeys are a joy. Their quick-witted energy as they leap from your knee to your head, in search of your backpack where they know they will find food, if you’ve left a zip undone, is uncanny. Get there between 11.30 and 13.00 or 14.00 and 15.30.
Make a date in the next holiday period, or over a weekend to visit the World of Birds. You will leave feeling that much closer to nature, and inspired by the colour and sound of birds.
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Address: World of Birds Wildlife Sanctuary, Valley Road, Hout Bay, 7806, Cape Town.
Telephone: +27 (0)21 790-2730
Opening hours: Daily from 09h00 to 17h00.