As a child in Germany, Walter Mangold dreamed of living in the jungle with all the animals as his friends.
Now, on the brink of turning 80, and the owner of World of Birds in Hout Bay, Walter can in some ways be regarded as Cape Town’s very own Doctor Doolittle.
Many of the thousands of birds that populate the lush and green four hectare facility recognise his sprightly
figure and react uncharacteristically to his presence.
A crested crane opens its wings in greeting and dances up and down in front of Walter, while a spotted thick-knee dikkop sidles up to him while he sits and chats, but scoots off the moment our conversation concludes.
World of Birds opened 43 years ago and it’s been such a roller-coaster ride that, says Walter, if he had to do it all again … he wouldn’t.
“In those days we were getting up to 200 birds and animals a month that needed help and, of course, I had no money,” he explains.
People still bring injured birds and creatures to World of Birds and Walter feels obliged to give whatever assistance is possible.
However, with the place on track to record its 120 000th visitor for the year in the next few weeks, this jungle paradise is finally enjoying the success and recognition it deserves.
“For every 10 or 11 tourists that go up Table Mountain, one comes to World of Birds,” he maintains, “and this despite the fact that we receive no support from the City of Cape Town, nature conservation or any tourism authority.”
A godsend, however, appeared a few years ago in the form of the popular hop-on hop-off City Sightseeing open-top bus that stops every hour outside World of Birds.
Perhaps the most amazing aspect of the tropical forest is that it was started from scratch on what was open farmland on the back of Table Mountain in 1973 and continues to be nurtured by Walter and his full-time staff of about 40 people. Some of the exotic palms are over 25m high.
It’s a raucous but oddly soothing place that features over 350 species from freed cage-birds to exotics such as golden pheasant, Eurasian eagle-owl and an oddly endearing king vulture from Central/South America.
There’s an excellent selection of raptors as well as a myriad of multi-hued toucans, lovebirds, parakeets, parrots and macaws.
A visit to World of Birds provides an intimate glimpse at the rapidly shrinking avian population and diversity of the Cape Peninsula.
“The population of Verreaux eagles in the peninsula has all but disappeared,” Walter says sadly of what used to be known as the “black eagle”.
“At one stage we had about a dozen of them – now there are none.”
Despite the dwindling numbers, World of Birds has notched up some incredible successes. The Eurasian eagle-owls started breeding after 30 years in captivity after the female was induced to hatch a fertilised egg of a local spotted eagle-owl and rear the hatchling.
Be prepared to do a fair bit of walking and the more than 100 landscaped walk-through aviaries are extremely humid regardless of the outside temperature.
The small Robin’s Nest cafeteria – which serves cooldrinks, ice-creams and light meals – provides welcome relief between visits to the cages.
Visitors are also welcome to bring their own picnic baskets.
The mammal and primate sections are especially popular with children and feature guinea pigs, marmosets, tamarins and mischievous squirrel monkeys.
World of Birds is open daily from 9am to 5pm. Entrance fees are R95 for adults and R45 for children.
Pensioners and holders of student cards pay R65.