Desmond Mgboh, Kano
Alhaji Saidu Gwadebe Gwarzo, managing director of Kano Zoological and Wildlife Management Agency, Kano State, is a man of courage. But recently, he was confronted with a dreadful challenge as a lion, one of such in his care as the manager of the zoo, escaped from its cage, strolling out into the open.
The lion roamed the perimeters of Kano Zoo for about 48 hours, hid himself in the bush and also ran wild a couple of times. In those hours that the loin roamed in the bush, night and day, the city of Kano was breathless. Fear stood tall in the hearts of many until the lion was recaptured.
In this interview, the managing director of the Zoo tells the full story of the chilling encounter about the fled lion, including how they fought hard and eventually captured it. Excerpts:
What exactly happened to the lion that escaped from the zoo or from its cage inside the zoo? I mean from the beginning to the end?
The story of this lion in Kano Zoo started with our usual invitation from Kano State Ministry of Agriculture, which is the supervisory ministry of the agency that we should participate in the National Agricultural Show. The show takes place in Karu in Nassarawa State. So, we made the arrangements based on what we used to do every year. We travelled with about 16 species of animals, which included the said lion to Karu, Nassarawa State. There, we spent about five to six days at the fair and came back to Kano on Saturday. The truck and the contingent arrived Kano on Saturday evening. Though I was there, but I came back on Friday. When they arrived in the zoo, they offloaded all the other species of animals and took them back to their normal cages. What remained was the lion, which has a bigger cage. They started uploading the lion, but along the line, in trying to bring the lion to enter its cage, there was an accident, maybe as a result of negligence which occurred when the lion was coming out of the cage in which they transported it to Nassarawa. Instead of going straight to its cage in the zoo, the lion turned back. When the lion turned back, it found a small outlet in between the original cage and the cage that they were bringing it back with. The lion escaped in front of so many people. And this happened at about 7:30 p.m in the evening. The zoo, in the evening, is very dark because of the long and big trees that we have. At this point the people who were around the zoo began to panic. The lion escaped to nowhere. Nobody as at that time could say the location of the lion. So, our rangers looked for the lion up till around 10:00p.m. But they could not find where exactly the lion was hiding. So, we instructed them to lock up the zoo, knowing that the zoo has a parameter fence that the lion could not jump over. Deliberately, our fore-fathers who had established this zoo, had left a large portion of land which is like a bush. They knew that if a lion or any other animal escaped from its cage, when they go out into the bush, they would be comfortable, they would think that they are at home in the bush. At least, they would rest there. We decided that by 6:a.m the following day, we would return back to the zoo to resume the search for the lion. I informed the governor of the state, Dr Abdullahi Umar Ganduje that night. Incidentally, when I called on the governor on that night, he was chairing a security council meeting at the Government House. Therefore, all the security heads in the state were present and the issue of the escape of the lion was tabled before them all and they made arrangement. It was this arrangement that made it possible that by 6:a.m, the Deputy Commissioner of Police in Charge of Operations, was sent with a large team of policemen to give adequate security to both the lion and the people working in the zoo and to forestall any breakdown of law and order. Thank God for that decision. In the morning, we were here and our conclusion was that the lion had roamed about in the light and eventually, we saw the lion in a cage where we used to keep goats. The goats were partly the food that we used to feed them. The lion entered into the cage and we have about 15 goats that we had kept there. That cage was not a maximum security cage. The lion entered there, killed about four of the goats, ate three and left one, while the others, about 11 of them were still alive. So, after eating up the goats and was satisfied, he now crossed over to a cage where we have ostriches. There, he rested. In fact, we met the lion there and at the first instance, the armed security men surrounded the cage to ensure that from there, the animal did not go to any other place. Since around 7:00 a.m up to 7:00 p.m , that lion was there. And nothing else happened. We were in total control of restricting it to the ostrich cage. There was no more roaming about or going anywhere! And I was assured that we were in control because even the lion attempted to move about or to be violent, we have armed men around who I was sure would take care of him. Thank God, we as conservationists, we don’t want anything to happen to the fleeing lion and so we were trying to find a solution which would exclude killing the lion. We tried to evolve a professional way to capture the lion back to his cage without harming the lion. We also tried to ensure that in doing so, the lion did not harm anybody. There is this equipment that we use to inject the lion and make him unconscious, to sedate him. Our hope was that if we sedate the lion, then we would now take him back to the cage. These are equipment that you will keep at the zoo, but you hardly use them. We have two brand new barrels, each of which has three injections. But unfortunately, we tried to get him, but we missed the three of the targets. The three missed syringes were within the cage of the ostriches where the lion was and, therefore, nobody can go back and get it. The other three syringes that got him, however, could not get him down, they could not sedate the lion. Yes, the lion collapsed upon the shot, but not for up to 10 minutes. He rose up again and regained his consciousness after 10 minutes. At this point, we were lost. Three of our syringes were on his body while three others were on the ground and we were left with nothing. At that time, we have to start looking for solution. Luckily this was around 9:00 to 10:00 a.m and the next solution was where could we get another sedative syringes, I must say that here in Kano, there was nowhere you could find it. They are not sold in the market. What we did was to seek the support of the National Park Service in Abuja. We had contact with them. When the Conservator General directed two men to come to Kano with that kind of syringes we need to help us in capturing the lion, they could not easily get a flight. The first flight to come to Kano from Abuja on that Sunday would be by 4:15 p.m. So, they waited up the time and flew to Kano. But before they arrived Kano and reached the zoo, it was about 6:p.m, which was another night. It was already dark again. That was when they arrived, put the medicine into the syringes, got the barrels ready for the operation! Although we started all the generators in the zoo, but you cannot see the whole place because it was really a bush sight. Later we used our cars, the whole cars had to light up the whole area, but still the operation was very, very difficult. At that time, they hit the lion with one of the syringes, but that one did not make him unconscious. But he realized that he was in danger and so he became wild and dangerous, very dangerous. He climbed the trees that were in the cage. And when he was now on top of the tree, the Deputy Commissioner of Police told us all that our security, all of us there, could no longer be guaranteed- because the lion may decide to jump out of the cage from the tree where it was and that could portend danger for all of us. So, when the lion eventually came down, he came down violently and escaped from the ostrich cage and ran into the bush of the zoo again. At that time, tensed I must say, the Deputy Commissioner then ordered that everybody should park out of the zoo, that our stay in the zoo was no longer safe because we did not know where the lion might come out from. So, everybody was asked, especially those that were unarmed, to leave the zoo. We were all moved to the gate area. Some of the policemen, including the Deputy Commissioner of Police, entered their bullet proof vehicle, went round the zoo that night in search of the lion. Before they left, they had to get approval from me as the chief executive here that if they saw this animal, they would just kill it. It was a difficult decision for me, but I had to give that approval because I don’t know what would happen across the night. But they spent more than 30 minutes going round all over the zoo, but the lion was nowhere to be found. They went back and came back again, spending almost an hour without spotting the lion. By 10:00 p.m, we decided that everybody must go out of the zoo then because it was really getting very dark. We locked up the whole area. Even the police left about 20 officers and our rangers, but we all agreed that everybody must sleep outside in front of the gate. And the operation was suspended till 6:00a.m on Monday. At that time, we now resorted to prayers because as at that time, there was no much progress. In the morning, the zoo was opened at 6:00a.m. Three of our staff were the first to enter the zoo; incidentally, they were the officers that were directly responsible for taking care of the two lions that we have. Before we left on Sunday night, they had advised that the cage of the lion be opened in the hope that the lion, after roaming around, might just stroll back into this cage. And they took a goat from the cage to tie in his own cage, hoping maybe if the lion found a goat in his cage, he would go over to eat the goat. When, therefore, they came in in the morning they realized that the lion was roaming about in front of his own gate and was attempting to attack the other lion, who was detached and separated from it by a thin fence. When they saw that it was trying to fight with its neighbour, they came and planned their operation. The one who was in charge of his feeding went to the opposite side calling on the lion, whispering. Usually when we have an important visitor and the lion was not visible, the keepers whisper to the lion to get them to come out. This was what he did. While he is whispering at him from the opposite side, which is usually what he does to attract it to come out, the lion was lured to go there and when he did that, the two others came quietly and locked the door. And the lion was recaptured. And since then, the lion has been in his cage. So, that morning exploit was an operation carried out by three of our men.
How was the feeling like when the lion was roaming the zoo?
I felt very, very terrible. It was a terrible experience. I have just been posted to this position, I am just three months old on this table. This was terrible because a lion out of his cage is really, really dangerous. Everybody knows how dangerous this could be. I was afraid that if this lion should attack even our staff what is going to be the future of this zoo, talk less of the lion going out of the zoo. Kano Zoo, although very, very big, is fully surrounded by residential quarters or is dominantly a residential area. I was really very troubled throughout the experience.
We have just had this breathtaking experience. What are the new measures to avert a future occurrence of this experience?
The first thing I have to tell you is that the zoo is 48 years old and nothing like this has ever happened here. This, therefore, should be regarded as an accident and as you know accidents happen everywhere. There are accidents in our kitchen, in our cars and in our planes. Accident happens in our working places and everywhere accidents can happen. We had some fire incidents, we have had the collapse of buildings and so on in our life. So, what happened in Kano Zoo this week, we certainly regarded it as an accident. But nevertheless, there is decay and overstretched facilities in this zoo. However, the management has always taken care of the minor issues. But there is need to make provision of new facilities that would meet the best practices of zoos in the world. The truth is that some of the facilities that we have here are obsolete or are decaying or are being overstretched because the population of the people coming into the zoo in the past when compared with what is coming now, the difference is in the higher side. We promised to do our best to ensure that some of the cages would be replaced with newer ones that would ensure maximum security of the animals, thank God our lion did not escape from the zoo. The accident happened when it was being brought back from a journey. But despite this, we would do all that there is to do to ensure that the cages are replaced with newer ones.