Nigeria’s zoos without animals

Entrance of Ogba zoo

Entrance of Ogba zoo

Ten-year-old Itohan Iyibor sits excitedly in the bus conveying him and some other pupils of his school to the Ogba Zoo. With what his teacher had taught on animals, he is more than curious this Saturday afternoon, as the vehicle glides through the streets of Benin City. By 2.20pm, the vehicle arrives the zoo and every child roars excitedly.

This afternoon, the Ogba Zoo on Airport Road, Benin City, wears a serene look. From the entrance gate, where visitors pay entry fee into the zoo that houses both recreational centres, parks, meeting points and then animals, everywhere is silent and you wonder what had happened.

But shocking, the animals are still in their cages and waiting for visitors.

“Aunty, aunty, that’s a lion,” Iyibor says. He goes to another corner to see some other animals: “I can see chimpanzees and tortoises.”

Built by the Samuel Ogbemudia government over 40 years ago, the zoo, which is situated very close to Ogba River, lies on 270 acres of land. Utagban and Ogbaneki communities bound it. But it is currently under threat of encroachment as not less than three-quarter of the land have been taken over.

The zoo was abandoned and left to rot until 15 years ago when a non-governmental organisation with interest in wild life preservation, BENZOPA, entered into a Public Private Partnership (PPP).

The Ogba zoo is the only major zoo in Nigeria that has been revived under private sector-led management. The zoo collapsed under government, it did not only collapse, and it went to the graveyard until it was brought back to life 15 years ago.

The intervention was supposed to be in three phases; by the third phase, it would have reached resort development. The first intervention would have been remediation and upgrades, the second was building a new zoo, probably, the first zoo in Nigeria that will transform into a modern zoo and by the third intervention, it was supposed to introduce the resort, having tourism lodges, eco-lodges and wider facilities like tourism village and many pilot schemes.

“But we have been bogged down by the lack of functional operational framework, because of the financial risks involved, especially, in doing business with government. We approached the state exco way back in 2006 to approve a N100m guarantee, which we will service and pay back and all the projects would be supervised by government. Unfortunately, today we are in 2016, the business plan that should cost N700,000 to develop, 10 years after, it has not been out in place, rather, extraneous factors have come in,” Ehanire said.

The way Ogbemudia built that zoo, it is going to take about N5b today to build, and the real estate alone is priceless. But government is not showing enough. “By now, I think we will need N250m by way of guarantee,” he said.

For Afiong Edem, a student in Akpabuyo, her hopes of seeing animals in the Calabar Zoo were dashed, when she discovered that the place had closed down. The once popular Calabar Zoo located on Mary Slessor Avenue is now a botanical garden that is home to some species of trees and birds. Occasionally, the place is used for social ceremonies such as, wedding receptions and parties. The last Christmas Village celebration was hosted there.

In Calabar, what you will get now is the Drill Ranch and the Cercopan, but not a zoo. Peter Jenkins and Liza Gadsby founded the drill ranch or the Pandrillus, located on Nsefik Eyo Layout, off Ndidem Iso Road, many years ago, “to promote the survival of much endangered and long overlooked African primates, the drill monkey.”

The Pandrillus main activity is the drill rehabilitation and breeding centre in Boki Local Council of the state, while the Cercopan, founded by Zena Tooze, which is located off the Murtala Mohammed Highway behind the PDP Secretariat, “strives to conserve the forest and to protect its monkeys, because both are highly threatened, providing education and practical options for the local communities so that their dependence on the forests becomes sustainable, rather than destructive. While hunting threats remain, the centre provides sanctuary and individual care for orphan monkeys, progressing through their rehabilitation to reintroduction, in suitable cases, into the forest that they are protecting,” said a statement by Cercopan.

The zoo in Nekede, Owerri West Local Council of Imo State, is better described as a shadow of its self. “I am yet to see government’s effort at turning around the fortune,” said John, an indigene of Nekede, as he spoke with The Guardian on the state of the zoo, which has been in place for several decades. “Workers are not regularly paid, the structures are dilapidated and animals are few.”

Two decades ago, the country’s zoological gardens ranked among the best in the continent. They were the delight of tourists that flocked from within and outside the country to see the animals housed in them.

The zoos were then the major tourist attractions in the country. Tens of thousands of visitors from neighbouring states and even foreign countries trooped in their numbers to view the animals in their makeshift habitats. Then, the zoos harboured various types of animals including, reptiles, chimpanzees, elephants, tigers, lions, rhinos and leopards, as well as various species of monkeys and birds.

Inadequate funding has decimated the number of zoos in the country. Currently, the Enugu Zoo and Biney Zoo in Lagos are no more.

The area housing Enugu Zoo on Ogui Junction, along Enugu-Abakaliki Expressway, was converted into residential area during the administration of Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani. Currently, the area, which shares boundary with the 82 Division of the Nigerian Army, is known as Zoo Estate.

It houses some of the most modern buildings in the state and is occupied mostly by politicians including incumbent governor of the state, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi. Justifying the decision of his government to convert the area into residential apartments, Nnamani had said that development of the Coal City had caught up with the place, adding that it was no longer suitable for tourism.

He reasoned that the facilities had aged, adding that government would relocate the zoo to a more convenient environment, where it could also provide revenue for the state. The protests that greeted the development notwithstanding, government moved in and decimated the existing area.

From then, till now, Enugu has remained without a functional Zoo. The promise by Nnamani to actualize the Zoo during his regime never worked. When Governor Sullivan Chime came on board, the drive for another zoo had continued.

An area at Attakwu in Akaegbugwu area, Enugu South council was mapped out. The Guardian gathered that the mapped out area, where the zoological garden would be located, is 221 hectares of land.

The Senior Special Assistant to Governor Ugwuanyi on Tourism, Mr. Manfred Nzekwe, said the government was continuing from where the last administration stopped in ensuring a functional zoo for the state. He said that the Ugwuanyi administration was desirous of boosting tourism to enable it increase the revenue base of the state.

His words: “The perimeter survey for the area had been done. Just recently, a group of investors from South Africa visited the area and even paid a visit to the traditional ruler of the community.

“Government is looking at partnering the private sector to give the state a more befitting zoological garden. We are mindful of the fact that developing an area like that can impact positively on the resources of the state; we also know that something like this is what is currently lacking in Enugu. So, the government wants to give the people something that they will be grateful for.”

Even with the zoological garden yet to come on board, governments of the state have continued to make yearly provisions for it. In this year’s budget, N10m was earmarked for its development.

The manager of Ogba Zoo, who is also the secretary of the National Association of Zoological Gardens, Andy Ehanire, told The Guardian that lack of institutional support has been bane of zoos and botanical gardens across the country.

“In fact, there have been no new zoos in Nigeria in the past 40 years. I am aware that states such as Delta, have been toying with the idea for more than 10 years, the same for Bayelsa, Anambra and Ondo, because zoos are among the most visited places on the planet. Talk about tourism, education especially, conservation education, scientific research, pilot schemes on sustainable use of natural resources, these are all where zoos play critical roles,” he said.

Ehanire lamented the situation, where zoos are going into extinction, while majority of those still remaining are in dilapidated state.

“So many zoos are still struggling for attention. Many actually collapsed, some even got to mortuary, like Ogba Zoo, before it was revived. It was actually in the mortuary and the idea is that if the zoo is no more, share the land, they will harvest all timber in the place, because the zoo in Benin has a very unique position with an extensive land measuring 750 acres and with a lot of the forestry intact. In fact, it is one of the unique places, where you have an urban forest in Nigeria and not just plantation forest like Ibadan, Benin is a typical tropical guinea lowland rain forest,” he said.

With inadequate funding, a family of four lions that should feed on a fat ram, once a day, is being fed on two kilogrammes of beef in a zoo. The result, as expected, had been gradual starvation and finally, death to such carnivores.

Some of the aging and dead animals have not been replaced, leading to empty cages in many zoological gardens across the country.

Many have called on the Federal Government to reverse the depleted zoos, so as to boost revenue. They noted that this is capable of boosting patronage and raising revenues for states.

zoo3They say inadequate budgetary allocations; inadequate maintenance and illegal killing of the animals are some of the major setbacks to the development and sustenance of zoos.

It is believed that if some states can allocate enough funds to maintain the animals, there are chances that the facilities can be resuscitated. To them, it is advisable that all tiers of government make adequate budgetary provisions for the rehabilitation of existing zoos in their domains, while setting up new ones.

Considering the extent to which zoos have grown in the world over, The Guardian gathered why zoos have become obsolete, because they are concept from the 60s and 70s. Meanwhile, there have been advancements. Relatively new terms for zoos coined in the late 20th century are ‘conservation park’ or ‘biopark’. Adopting a new name is a strategy used by some zoo professionals to distance their institutions from the stereotypical and nowadays criticized zoo concept of the 19th century.

The term ‘biopark’ was first coined and developed by the National Zoo in Washington D.C. in the late 1980s. In 1993, the New York Zoological Society changed its name to the Wildlife Conservation Society and rebranded the zoos under its jurisdiction as ‘wildlife conservation parks’.

Lara Gadsby, who manages Pandrillus in Calabar, told The Guardian, “zoos are very difficult to maintain and they are really outdated institution in the western world.” She said, “no one is building more zoos in Europe and America and some zoos are closing down or consolidating. They are more urban institutions, they are things of the past, but you cannot just close them down immediately, because of the animals there. Over the long run, I think they will disappear. No one is making new zoos in Europe and America because they are out dated institutions and very expensive. They do not make money. There is no zoo in the world that is making profit. London Zoo went into bankruptcy in 1992 and was one of the most famous zoos in Europe and the only reason it did not shut its doors is because some Saudi Sheik came and bailed them out financially.

“That is the big mistake I have heard in this country (Nigeria) over the years that zoos are revenue generating institutions, they are not. I would like to say that zoos in this country have been a real heartbreak for me. I have visited quite a few and I received emails, phone calls continually from people who have been to one zoo or the other begging me to come rescue some animals that are dying of starvation. Every zoo I have been to in this country, animals are dying of starvation or just sheer neglect. Many zoos in this country are engaged in many criminal activities like illegal trading in wild life. They buy and sell chimpanzee and this is promoting the extinction of chimpanzee in the wild in Nigeria. We don’t have up to a thousand chimpanzees remaining in the wild in Nigeria, maybe not even 500. There is a famous case of a zoo selling four gorillas to Malaysian Zoo, claiming they were kept and bred by them, whereas there were one female and a male that was castrated when he was a youngster.

“There is no much left in this country and the much left in terms of conservation is in Cross River State. Every state has a little something or area that is worthy of protection even if it does not have gorillas, it has birds and small mammals, free living long tail monkeys that people can come and see and there is a need for such project all over this country. But the zoo at Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta is great. Look at our zoo here in Calabar, all the animals died of starvation, over the years. The last one was Jacob, the chimpanzee, and he was moved up to our programme in Afi and the facility there was too small for him, because he was older than other chimps. But before we moved him, we always took food to him at the old zoo here, every day, for 11 years. So, this is the mentality of people running zoo here. I can’t actually blame them, because they were not actually zoo people. There was a directive in this country at one time that every forestry department should have a zoo and this was a terrible burden to place on forestry officers and I hope that those days are over.”

While lamenting the fortune of the Nekede Zoo, an indigene of the town said, “the zoo used to be a place where children and adults spent leisure time to appreciate animals in their natural habitat, during weekends, after work and holiday. The zoo had an old tortoise, which used to be the star attraction, as many visited to see how it behaved at the age. But all have become history. Now neglect is boldly written as an epitaph of the once thriving place.”

Successive administrations left the facility to its fate, making the community and patronisers of the zoo not to visit anymore.

After much public outcry concerning the pitiable stage of the zoo, the governor intervened, promising to make it once again another tourist attraction in the state. Though, little renovation work has been carried out in the vicinity, workers are still crying over delayed payment of salary.

Governor Rochas Okorocha regretted the situation, where the zoo, like most agencies and parastatals, are not driven by the workers to generate revenue to keep it afloat.

The Commissioner for Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environment, Udo Agoha, said the state government would continue to allocate resources at its disposal to ensure that the zoo is kept in social service.

A member of staff in the zoo who remained anonymous told The Guardian that there was no need to continue paying lip service to the zoo. He said the authorities (government), needed to know the need for injection of resources and increase the animals, while the old animals should be discarded.

He said: “If any government is serious about diversifying its economy, tourist attractions like zoo should be considered. People from various states can come into the state spend weekends for the purpose of seeing animals in the zoo. If they don’t find them in such numbers, the available alternative is to look for it elsewhere. Hotels can boom in a state because of tourists who spend their days to take their children on sight seeing. This one needs urgent attention.”

Ehanire identified socio-cultural factors as responsible for the rot in the sector; “there is poverty in the land, human beings have not eaten you are talking about animals and of course animal itself is bush meat. So what is the big deal of creating a wonderland for animals and treating them like lords.”

Ehanire lamented the level of neglect of zoos in the country, pointing to the recent event in the Makurdi Zoo, where the international community had to intervene. “The lion in the zoo had become emaciated to now look like a dog and it was a national disgrace, it took a zoo from abroad to bring money to bail out Makurdi zoo. It is an international disgrace for this country.”

Ehanire said, “in developing the zoo under PPP, we had a deliberate policy of running a small zoo, it is not a zoo where you will see every kind of animal you know about or you want to see, but you will see interesting animals, because one of the risks of having a big zoo is easy collapse. Zoos collapse very easily. The moment you don’t feed animals two three days, the moment you don’t do schedule maintenance, you are in trouble, so, every zoo must cut cost.”

Speaking on the importance of zoos to any society, a University teacher, Dr. Uche Ugwu explained that it does not only offer recreational opportunities, it also provides education for children.

“I knew how often we visited the zoo in Jos, Plateau State, during my secondary school days. It did not only provide us first hand information about some of the animals we hear about, we were also made to see and feel them, that was the much we could. In terms of conservation, most zoos are known for this. As we moved round, we could identify trees by their names. There was this sense of nature that the place evoked. If you are fortunate to go to a zoo located near a river, you will feel complete sense of one in his environment. I think there is need to restore this in this state.

“Then, I heard stories of Enugu Zoo, how parents spent their weekends with their children in the area and what have you. I longed to visit the place but we returned here to discover that the place no longer exists. My children have not known zoo before, but they hear stories about them,” he said.

Mrs. Jane Igwe, who said she once visited the Enugu Zoo, told The Guardian that she opposed the move to relocate the zoo, when there was no alternative in place.

‘Imagine what is happening today where the children don’t have sense of wildlife. I suspected that the plan of government was to eliminate the zoo idea when they began to neglect the place. Then, the animals there started disappearing, some were killed and nobody cared about the environment. I believe it was what paved way for the Chimaroke government to convert the place. My worry is that it is more than ten years and all we hear is promise upon promise. Let there be an action on this once and for all,” she said.

“Government should from time to time import different species of animals to promote the continued existence of the animals,” she adds.

The Managing Director of Kano Zoo Garden, Lawan Abdullahi Kenken, however, dismissed the idea that zoological gardens across the country were no longer providing educational activities to students.

He said, “as far as Kano Zoo is concerned, it is in place for educational engagements more than ever. Students come almost on daily basis for their educational researches.”

He revealed that the garden was more of an educational facility now than a fun-seeking centre, stressing, “that does not stop visitors from trooping into the place from neighbouring countries like the Republics of Niger, Chad and Ghana for sight seeing.”

According to Kenken, the animals are well fed and they have an excellent medical treatment for the animals, as well as, the birds camped at the garden.

Kenken added that they had hundreds of crocodiles and other animals, including hippopotamus and elephant.

On the need to preserve some sections of animals against extinction, Kenken advised the Federal Government to do everything possible to see that laws punishing those hunters and pastoralists who engaged in illegal hunting of animals are made.

“Anybody found wanting should be tried in accordance with the provision of international zoological law,” he suggested. “This agency collaborated with some local hunters and set standard for engaging in legally accepted hunting. By doing so, we evolved a method to prevent hunters from hunting illegally,” Kenken said.

“In Kano Zoo we have an effective Rescue Squad stationed to engage in rescuing operations. Our rescue squad also had sometime helped Kaduna Zoo garden when they had problem, we became their saviours,” he said.

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1 Comment
  • Baby Lion ?

    “From the entrance gate, where visitors pay entry fee into the zoo that houses both recreational centres…” But the article fails to mention the cost of entry fee into the Zoo. Why is it so difficult to find important information about Nigerian places online?