Zoos are amongst the most visited places on the planet, thus deserving to be focal points in tourism development. It was an emotional reunion with then Director General of Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), Mrs. Mbanefo and her management, when the nascent Zoo Association paid a courtesy visit around 2015. It was the very first interface as the DG confessed that she was not aware that Zoos also fall within her agency’s purview. It was like children going in search for their parents, rather than the other way round. That encounter tacitly confirms the prolonged omission of zoos from the pilot schemes of tourism administrators and policy makers.
The mandate of zoos encompasses recreation, conservation, education, research and tourism, even to incorporate other diverse products that signpost critical indices of live-able cities. By their very location, zoos invariably fulfill the much desired need for green spaces that serve as environmental and social pressure valves in our overbuilt urban habitats. Children, youths and just about any other segment of the population are usually enchanted by a visit to the zoo for so many reasons. These ideally make zoos indispensable for tourism development, if actually they are set up and made to operate in line with desirable standards.
Most zoos in Nigeria, particularly those of the first and second generations, are Government owned and all had impressive set ups with good standards, but somewhere down the line, these were compromised and never sustained. Notable ones are the University of Ibadan Zoo, Jos Zoo, Jos Wildlife Park, Audu Bako Zoo, Kano; Ogba Zoo in Benin City, Nekede Zoo, Owerri; Port Harcourt Zoo; and Kyarimi Zoo, Maiduguri. Some later came on stream, such as National Children’s Park and Zoo, Abuja; University of Ilorin Zoo and a few small private zoos. Calabar had a small zoo but was properly closed down, with the site remaining as a valuable green area. Makurdi has what was a beautiful zoo by the banks of the river Benue, but now begging to be shut down due to scandalous conditions. Most of the zoos, without exception, went into decline soon after takeoff, while Ogba Zoo in Benin City is amongst those having a second lease of life, though in its case, now uniquely under PPP. An impressive private zoo at Oba, near Onitsha, Rojeney Park, now equally begs to be shut down due to neglect.
Many entrants from the private sector do not merit to be called zoos, but in the near absence of appropriate regulatory environment, they freely constitute a form of quackery. It is therefore so obvious that conditions in many zoos in Nigeria give much cause for concern, if not outright embarrassment, to the extent that
Yours sincerely concluded long ago that zoo keeping is not in our character. Our zoo management standards have joined the unending index of failed systems that deny us respectability amongst the comity of progressive nations. The irony is that most negative newsbreaks often start abroad, with headlines such as: starving lions in Nigeria’s zoo; malnourished animals in Nigeria’s zoos; lion escape in Nigeria’s zoo; land grab in Nigeria’s zoos, etc. The conditions in our zoos are often described as horrendous, so much that a President of Nigeria’s apex Conservation NGO, the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF), once described the zoos in Nigeria as wildlife torture chambers. In well regulated environments, zoos are subjected to strict accreditation, inspections and technical audits, but these are really non- existent in Nigeria, except way back in the seventies and eighties, before the general decline began to set in. With little or no institutional support, the nascent zoo Association, NAZAP, has been unable to evolve credible direction with serious action plans. It was in Kaduna recently where visitors stumbled on disturbing sights of malnourished animals at Gamji Park. The man who spoke for NAZAP on this incident failed to convince his audience with pictorial evidence of his interventions, or how he arrived at his position that a five day flood made the exhibits inaccessible for minimum upkeep, when it was apparent that it was a case of prolonged malnutrition. It was the team sent by the Conservator General of the National Park Service that provided visible evidence of real intervention to revive the starving animals. Often, there will be no investigative reports made available to stakeholders, along with followup actions and sanctions where necessary. It is now an endless vicious circle of business as usual.
Of all the ills that afflict Nigeria’s zoos, there has emerged another existential threat under the guise of planned relocation. It was Enugu Zoo that first became defunct when Chinmaroke Nnamani, a publicity savvy governor at the time, opted for the relocation “treatment”. At the end of the exercise, what emerged was a new highbrow estate for fat cats, but no new zoo was built as promised. It should be to his eternal shame that such a scam was foisted to deny a strategic State the benefit of an already functional zoo.
Since the zoo relocation saga at Enugu, it was the Port Harcourt Zoo that came next on the radar. In what looks like a patented predatory tactic, it starts by leaving the zoo unattended for years on end, so to put it in an obsolete and moribund state. Such should ordinarily be a disgrace to its location on Trans Amadi Industrial Estate, which is one of the prime real estates in Nigeria. Both Governors Amaechi and Wike are known to have neglected this strategic zoo in spite of their impressive exploits in infrastructural development. After a prolonged period of leaving the Zoo in near disuse, an excuse was then manufactured to relocate the zoo. The case of Port Harcourt Zoo appears on hold, as then NAZAP leadership frantically travelled to Port Harcourt to plead with the State Government to rescind the decision. Part of the uncanny argument was: it is unthinkable to take away the only garden from a Garden City, for which Port Harcourt is famously known.
Presently, it is the Kano State Governor that probably woke up on the wrong side of his elements to contemplate the relocation of Audu Bako Zoo. It is curious that some policy makers appear unmindful of the weighty implications and cumbersome procedures for relocating a zoo. There should be proof that the current location of the zoo is problematic or unsuitable. The parameters for such considerations can only be proven by experts. In the event of a final decision to relocate, the new location has to be fully built and connected with necessary infrastructure before the wildlife exhibits can be relocated in phases? Even while contemplating such relocation, the collateral or inadvertent implications should be weighed, such as the likely gestation period associated with new projects.
Fundamentally, the present zoo location also serves as a much needed green area for an overbuilt mega city as Kano. The opinion of experts and well informed stakeholders should be sought on this controversy and articulated in the public domain. Reminds one of the case of Istanbul in Turkey when the progressive Government there wanted to build the biggest shopping mall in the world on a popular recreational park. The immediate response was that two million citizens took to streets in protest and that put paid to the idea. Already, the well informed stakeholders in Kano and far beyond have spoken in protest. Kano Zoo already has the enviable position of having the largest number of wildlife exhibits in West Africa. It is perhaps the only zoo that has gained WAZA membership in Nigeria; so why trade off these glorious achievements when It is trite knowledge that zoos are also amongst the foremost monuments or institutions in any State? The financial implication of any such relocation is prohibitive and cannot be a rational priority under the current troubling Covid-19 economic circumstances. The thought of relocating Kano Zoo is a recognizable scam. being intended to corner the real estate value of such prime lands. It is also an easy path for any Administration to land in the hall of infamy. If the cost of managing such facility becomes unattractive to government, it is a proven option that the private sector can be invited to tender for its operations.
•Andy O. Ehanire
A tourism practitioner and member of ATPN