Some residents in the North-Central part of Nigeria have called for the establishment of zoos in the area to boost tourism, leisure and revenue generation.
The stakeholders who made the call in a survey conducted by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) also called for upgrading of existing zoos so as to attract more visitors to the facilities.
One of the residents, Mr Shikmak Nyamtu, a civil servant, said that the establishment of a zoological garden would boost the economy of the state through tourism.
“This will also generate employment, thereby reducing the rate of unemployment, especially among the youth,” Nyamtu said.
He explained that the gesture would serve education and reserch purposes as children would have the opportunity of seeing live, the animals they had learnt about.
“Some of us had the opportunity of seeing some of the wildlife animals we read about in books because we had the privilege of visiting the zoo in places like Jos.
“But, our children would not have such privilege if the government does not step in to establish zoos,” Nyamtu said.
Similarly, Mr Peter Ahemba, another resident, said the establishment of the zoo would help to preserve animal species that were already on the verge of extinction.
“Some of the animals we saw while growing up are no longer available for our children to see.
“We need zoos for the future generation to know the animal species that existed in this part of the world,” Ahemba said.
In Taraba, residents decried the absence of a zoo in the state, saying it was not proper for the entire state not to have such an important relaxation facility.
Mr Simon Atochi, a retired civil servant, said during his days in service, he used to visit zoos in other states with his family and the experience was normally full of fun.
Atochi wondered why the Taraba government had not established a zoo 30 years after creation of the state.
“It is surprising that we don’t have zoos in Taraba after 30 years of its creation when some of us who work around other states of the country have been patronizing the centres.
Hajiya Maryam Abubakar, another resident said the only area that provided an alternative to a zoo in the state is the Gashaka Gumti National Park which harboured few animals but was not as open to the public as a zoo.
Abubakar called on the government to consider this aspect of social life, saying it would go a long way in creating jobs and engaging people socially.
However, Mr Joseph Aasseh, the Taraba Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, said the state government had no zoo officially but had government reserved areas where animals were preserved.
In Benue, Mrs Dooter Ajoko, the Director of Tourism, Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism, called for the upgrading of the Makurdi zoological garden to attract visitors to the facility.
Ajoko said that the 45-year-old zoo had suffered poor funding and was no longer a tourist delight.
She said the garden enjoyed huge patronage in the nineties when the facility was still at its best.
Ajoko however, said successive administrations had not given it desired attention which led to the decline in the number of visitors to the facility.
The director decried the poor state of wild animals in the facility, saying most of them were old while those still alive were housed in old and rusty cages.
“The Makurdi zoological garden was created in 1976 and was commissioned in 1979 during the military regime.
“It was basically to create recreation for Benue people and at inception, it operated under the Ministry of Agriculture, Animals and Forestry but it is currently under the Ministry of Information Culture and Tourism,” she said.
Ajoko said the major challenges confronting the zoo were lack of access roads, water and electricity, security, while the space was “porous” with no perimeter fencing.
“At the moment, you need to go through the Benue State University gate to access the zoo.
“Though, people still visit the zoo, but they do so mostly during festive seasons,” she said.
The director commended the administration of Gov. Samuel Ortom for its ongoing efforts at revamping the place to attract visitors.
“The government is trying to revamp the place to make it more entertaining and delightful for visitors and tourists,” Ajoko said.
A staff of the zoo, Mr Bonnie, conducted NAN correspondent round the facility to see some of the renovations going on.
Bonnie noted that a lot still needed to be done to bring the zoo back to life.
He said that the animals were regularly fed, treated and given their due rights for existence as well as preservation.
Bonnie said the only surviving lioness which is 17 years old was fed once in two days.
He added that the animal was brought as a cub in 2007 but could not reproduce following the death of the partner lion in 2012.
According to the official, the lioness is on the brink of exiting its 20-year lifespan but regretted that it is yet to have a replacement.
“A lioness and a lion would be needed to fill the gap since the surviving lioness may not be able to reproduce after its kind even with the availability of a younger one because they (lions) cohabit within their age brackets,” Bonnie said.
A resident, Mr James Okpu, told NAN that the zoo, which once served as an entertainment facility to the locals in the nineties, had become deserted with most of the animals dying from diseases or malnourishment.
Okpu further said that the zoo would attract more tourists and visitors and improve revenue generation if security and renovation of dilapidated structures were undertaken by the government.
“Once in a while I take my family to the zoo to see the animals left and have picnic in the serene environment,” he said.
But, Mr Emmanuel Wende, an Administrative Officer at the zoo, said the zoo was lacking manpower to maintain it due to the embargo placed on employment by the government.
Wende explained that the zoo required well trained officers and skilled hands to be able to function effectively.
“Another challenge we are having with the management of the zoo is the discontinuation of the management due to shift from one Ministry to the other.
“Feeding of the animals has been one of the biggest challenges and because of this, most of the animals died due to lack of food, the meal is quite insufficient for them.
“Our animals are dying and unless something urgent is done, all the animals will become extinct in this zoo,” he said.
Wende said places such as the picnic, museum and restaurants were in dire need of improved service delivery.
Some of the animals still in the zoo were cheetah, hyena, chimpanzee, monkeys, crocodiles, lioness, a bush buck, leopard, an ostrich and different species of birds.
But in Plateau, Mrs Mary Ohaegbu, Zoo Manager, Jos Zoological Garden, said that because of the security situation, tourists had not been visiting.
“We need financial support from government and well meaning Nigerians to take care of the animals,” Ohaegbu said.
Mr Victor Damar, Assistant General Manager, Jos Wild Life Park, also told NAN that the COVID-19 and recent crises in the state had adversely affected the activities of the park.
“Patronage dwindled drastically because everybody was locked up domestically and internationally.
“This is because in a crisis situation, you don’t expect people to visit and it really affected our business.
“It is only when you have patronage that you get revenue. If there is no patronage, there is no revenue,” Damar said.
Mr John Farinola, a Jos resident, said that it had been a while that he last visited Jos Zoo and the Jos Wildlife Park.
Farinola said that apart from the insecurity in the city, he hardly had time to visit the zoo because of the nature of his job.
He said that lack of animals also discouraged people from visiting the zoo.
“Because of insecurity, the place is deserted and taken over by weeds,” Farinola said.
Mr Pam Musa, another resident of Jos, said that it was over a year that he last visited Jos Zoo and Jos Wild Life Park.
Musa said that it took that long because he could not take his children to a place where their safety was not guaranteed.
He stated that apart from the prevailing insecurity, the animals that people used to see in the zoo were no longer there, and that the place was not well maintained to attract visitors as it used to.
On her part, Ms Ladi Emmanuel urged the government to give Jos Wild Life Park the attention it deserved as a tourist site.
Emmanuel said that the park had the potential to generate huge revenue for the state if properly maintained.
Meanwhile, Alhaji Mohammed Kolo, a retired Permanent Secretary, Niger State Ministry of Information, has decried lack of proper funding for smooth management of zoos in the country.
Kolo also lamented inadequate trained rangers to properly manage zoos and game reserves in the country.
“The zoos these days have fewer wild animals that could attract the attention of people as they used to,” he said.
Kolo said that parents residing where zoos were located were no longer interested in taking their children there.
He said this was because they had been watching most of the wild animals on National Geographic wildlife satellite television. (NAN)