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Central couples spend Valentine’s Day at the zoo

One by one the couples lined up to meet the loving pinniped led by his trainer of nearly 10 years, Elsie Briebenhann.

Four lucky couples got to spend their Valentine’s Day receiving gifts and kisses from an 11-year-old seal at the Pretoria central zoo.

On February 14, the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa based in the Pretoria CBD, surprised a few unsuspecting couples with a gift from one of its beloved seals, Shylo.

One by one the couples lined up to meet the loving pinniped led by his trainer of nearly 10 years, Elsie Briebenhann.

Shylo waiting for a treat. Photo: Manna Maurice

Shylo is an 11-year-old neutered male seal that was rescued in Bayworld, Gqeberha. He is a shark-bite survivor that was released back into the wild after rehabilitation but brought back when fishermen reported he regularly returned to shore to steal their fish.

Shylo shaking Gaopalelwe’s hand. Photo: Manna Maurice
Matshidiso Motaung and Zwelithini Aphane meeting Shylo. Photo: Manna Maurice

The zoological gardens took him in when he was a yearling, and Briebenhann has been looking after him since he was two.

A lifelong animal lover, Briebenhann has been working with animals for almost more than half her life, she started at the central zoo in 1999 and has never left.

“What I love most about it are the animals and the peace,” she said.

“We are in the middle of bustling CBD and you would never notice it once you’re in these walls.”

Briebenhann has worked with many various animals throughout her career, her oldest seals are Luke and Julie who are both 23 years old. She’s cared for them since they were two as well.

“They are a part of me, wherever they go, I go,” she continued.

Tebogo Basson and Joy Masombuka receiving a rose from Shylo. Photo: Manna Maurice

Ever the charmer, Shylo presented a rose to the ladies, gave a kiss on the cheek and shook the hand of the gentlemen with some guys lucky enough to receive a kiss as well.

Hope Mpyana and her TUT ABC Motsepe League soccer player boyfriend Miguel Furriel said they came to the zoo to enjoy Valentine’s Day as a couple, though they believe that the day is a celebration of love in general rather than one of romantic love specifically.

“This day is a celebration of love, it doesn’t have to be relationshipically [romantic] love, if that’s a word, but love in general,” Mpyana.

The young couple celebrate a year together next month after Miguel first approached Hope via social media. They began dating on March 27, 2022.

Miguel believes he’s found the one and sees wedding bells in their future.

“I’m gonna marry her, there’s no doubt. But first, she says I have to pay lobola,” Furriel chuckled.

Shylo, Hope Mpyana and TUT ABC Motsepe League soccer player, Miguel Furriel. Photo: Manna Maurice

An older couple shared the same sentiments regarding Valentine’s Day.

Gaopalelwe Kitsenyane and his partner Lerato Mabuye’s relationship is going into their fourth year. They too believe that Valentine’s Day is about spending time with those you love and it doesn’t have to be a romantic partner.

“We took some time out of our duties to come to spend Valentine’s Day together as a couple here at the zoo,” said Kitsenyane.

Lerato admitted to first being nervous about meeting Shylo, though her worries were eased once she saw how loving the seal was with the other couples.

“At first I was scared but when I saw the other couples go, I calmed down a bit. When it was our turn I really enjoyed it, we both did,” said Mabuye.

Gaopalelwe Kitsenyane and Lerato Mabuye waiting to meet Shylo. Photo: Manna Maurice.

The couple are both students and Gaopalelwe similarly to Miguel, also sees nuptials in their future.

“The plan is to marry my beautiful lady,” Gaopalelwe said to the blushing reaction of his partner.

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