Government’s poor funding of zoos, lack of interest, and unfavorable policies have been identified as factors that contribute to the disappearance of zoo in South-East states.
Some stakeholders who spoke on the disappearance of zoos in the zone, noted that if revitalized, it would not only boost the tourism industry but would be a major revenue spinner and job creator the youth.
In Enugu, the Zonal Coordinator, Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation, Mrs Annette Ibeh said challenges and cost of maintenance made government and individuals abandon zoo business in the country.
Ibeh noted that there used to be a zoo in Enugu but it was abandoned due to government’s inability to maintain it.
“Zoo is ecotourism and currently in the South-East, we have only one in Owerri, Imo state. Government should invest more on domestic tourism for its ability to create jobs and promote peace among the youth.
“Such investment will bring about social integration, youth development and promote peace. There is need to develop and upgrade tourist sites, which the zoo is one them,” she said.
Ibeh blamed the diminishing zoo culture and reduction in visits to other tourist centres to lack of awareness and underdevelopment.
“Nigeria has a lot of tourist attractions which if developed, will help youths in the country. I want government to look into these sites, to develop and upgrade them,” she said.
A resident, Mr Ebuka Chioke described the closure and conversion of the Enugu Zoo to a residential estate as ‘unfortunate’.
Chioke noted that people used to visit Enugu Zoo to see various kinds of animals and it became a source of attraction and fun for many, especially school children during holidays.
“My father used to take us to the zoo to see animals but today they are no more. We will pay a token and at the end, we will go home with unforgettable experience.
“Children these days will live without zoo experience to share with the generations to come. I appeal to the state government to establish a zoo in Enugu,’’ he said.
In Abia, a lecturer at Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Dr Collins Ehisianya, identified lack of interest in animals and inadequate government funding as reasons for the disappearing zoo culture in Nigeria.
Ehisianya, the Head of Department of Zoology and Environmental Biology in the institution, said the management and handling of animals should be made a priority to resuscitate and sustain zoological gardens.
“We should handle animals in our environment with care, give them necessary medicare for them to look good and healthy,” he said.
Ehisianya also said that lack of space posed serious challenge to sustaining the zoo culture.
According to him, animals need to be kept in an environment where they can operate freely as in their natural habitats.
In Anambra, Chief Rommy Ezeonwuka, proprietor, Rojenny Tourist Games Village, Oba, said it was not easy to establish and manage a zoo adding that the major challenge was feeding of the animals.
“For instance, a lion eats one live goat in a week, a python eats about 12 fowls a month and it takes about N45,000 to buy feeds for a horse monthly.
“Presently, I spent more than N180,000 monthly on animal feeds to maintain a few number of animals in my zoo now,” Ezeonwuka said.
The proprietor who said he was still keeping the animals due to the passion he has, added that it requires subvention from government and support from non-profit organisations to maintain a zoo.
According to him, few families still bring their children to see live animals, but the token they pay as fees is not enough to maintain the animals in addition to salaries of the workers.
On his part, Mr Mike Afam, Public Relations Officer, Ministry of Agriculture, Anambra says the state has no zoo.
Afam said residents of the state used to visit the zoo in Enugu before the creation of Anambra state.
He said it was before the state creation that he visited the Enugu zoo, adding that if such facility was available, he would have loved to visit it with his children.
Also in Ebonyi State, some stakeholders called for revival of zoos to support the growth of the nation’s tourism and agricultural development as they decried disappearing Zoo culture in the South East.
Mr Moses Nomeh, the state Commissioner for Agriculture described zoos as `an important’ aspect of agriculture that could go a long way in enhancing economic growth.
“The zoo as an industry, can generate funds and reduce unemployment, if well developed and managed.
“Yes, in Ebonyi, we have no zoo but we have plans to venture into it. We have contacted some foreigners to come and establish zoos in the state but we are yet to hear from them.
“To revive the zoo industry, we have to contact experts or go into privatising them. Politicking is what killed some of our establishments in this country,” Nomeh said.
Mr Jerry Okereke, an academic also decried the disappearing zoo culture noting that a zoo could serve as a research centre, if well built.
Okereke urged government at all levels to revive the industry and create an enabling environment for investors to come into the business.
Mrs Jenet Onuh, a parent decried the way some animals could only be seen on television and in books, noting that if the industry could be revived, it would go a long way in teaching the children.
“The children will be able to identify those animals by their names. Yes, I have visited a zoo in Calabar with my uncle when I was a kid, but now, one cannot find such facility anywhere in the country,” Onuh said.
In Imo, poor funding, bad government policies and lack of access road to zoo sites were identified as some challenges stalling the growth of zoos.
The National Present of Nigerian Association of Zoological Gardens and Wildlife Parks, Mr Francis Abioye said Nigerian zoos were underfunded.
Abioye said that due to poor funding and neglect, most zoos became dilapidated, leading to poor patronage.
“Before the civil war, when zoos were first introduced in Nigeria, it was a fantastic tourist destination and tourists were very happy.
“The advantage of the zoo is that it brought animals from far forests, close to human habitation.
“Poor funding and bad policies have killed most of Nigerian zoos, while those still in existence are neglected,’’ he said.
According to Abioye, Imo zoo previously has 112 species of animals, but the figure rose to 650, yet government has not shown serious interest to upgrade the facility.
“Any government that cannot care for animals in captivity, cannot cater for its citizens.
“We have lost about 50 per cent of our animals due to neglect and poor funding and if nothing is done to reclaim the zoo, we may soon go out of stock,’’ he said.
Abioye also identified lack of access to facility as another problem, which had affected patronage of zoos.
“Landslide has cut off the major road to the zoo, while the only alternative route is impassable.
“Since the incident, casual workers at the zoo have threatened to quit due to many months of salary backlog owed them.
“The COVID-19 lockdown and four months lockdown due to insecurity in Imo also affected growth of zoos,’’ he explained.