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Special Report: Rebuilding Port Harcourt Zoo to Boost Tourism Potentials in Rivers

By Obiabin Onukwugha

Zoo otherwise known as animal park or menagerie is a facility in which animals are kept within enclosures for public exhibition and often bred for conservation purposes.

Currently there are 39 animal species under the extinct list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in the Wild.

Zoos, therefore maintain a collection of wild animals, typically in a park or gardens, for study, conservation, or display to the public.

These animals may also be bred for research purposes and are great tourist attraction sites that serve as economic booster.

In Nigeria, there are ten established zoos across different states, for which the Port Harcourt zoo is among them.

However, the Port Harcourt zoo owned by the Rivers State government has been moribund for decades and unable to function optimally and serve the purpose for which is was founded.

Established in 1974 by the administration of the first military governor of old Rivers State, Diete Papapiriye Spiff, the facility is currently undergoing its first ever rehabilitation.

Though skeletal services are still going on to keep the few available animals alive, the once vibrant zoo is a ghost of itself.

Before now schools, parents and tourists alike, visit the facility for sight seeing and study which contributed to the economy and tourism sectors of the state.

Wild life adorned the zoo in different cages, and those who didn’t grow up from the villages had the opportunity to see such animals as apes, monkeys, alligators, grass cutters, lion, pigeons, parrots, pangolins, turtles, gorilla, giraffe, amongst others, and interact with them.

The zoo also served as source of information and data for researchers.

However, the zoo has become moribund and remained unattended to for several years.

When NatureNews Correspondent visited, it was observed that the once vibrant facility has become a forest as majority of the cages have been over grown by trees.

It was also observed that majority of the cages not taken over by trees have no animals in them. Only a few monkeys, a giant tortoise that has been caught up with old age, one medium-sized alligator, few pigeons, a turtle, peacock, remained in the zoo.

At the mini museum, it was also observed that only a few artistic animals are there.

However, what could be described as the legacy of the zoo, especially the museum is a husband and wife lion that was electrocuted for devouring the first white man that once managed it.

A top government official who spoke under condition of anonymity told NatureNews correspondent that the zoo has remained closed since the previous administration of Nyesom Wike started a rehabilitation work on it.

He said skeletal services are allowed to keep the available animals alive because the animals have been trained to interact with humans.

The source also told this reporter that the present administration of Sir Siminilayi Fubara is very interested in completing the project.

The official further informed that when fully rebuilt, the zoo will boost economic and tourist activities in the state.

The official said the government intends to stock it with more species of animals, including those that were hitherto not available at its inception, and build a three-star hotel as accommodation for tourists.

The source said the previous administration already rebuilt the parameter fences to solve erosion problem. Also rebuild by the previous administration was the mini museum, kitchen, staff quarters and cage house.

The source however dispelled the idea of handing it over to the federal government when completed, saying, “The zoo is very important. Rivers State people need it and cannot be handed over to federal government.”

Though the source didn’t reveal how much the project will cost the Rivers State government, it is hoped that the present administration will match action with words so as to restore the lost glory of the once vibrant zoo, especially as its aetheistics contributes to the garden city status of the capital city.

8 Reasons that Zoos are Critically Important for Conservation

A couple of weeks ago, there was an accident at Cincinnati zoo. A child fell into an enclosure with a gorilla named Harambe, and to protect the child the gorilla was shot. I’m not going to recount the story, for three reasons:

Dozens and dozens of articles have poured over the minutia of the events already.
I very much doubt I have anything new I could add.

This one event, however tragic, simply doesn’t interest me very much, when there are vastly more important things to write about.

Yet what this events has done, is reignite the debate over the role of zoos (and aquaria). Whilst much of attention that generates is unfortunately negative, it does give folks like me an opportunity to shout about the great and critically important work zoos do for conservation (and how they might get better at it in the future).

Normally, one would hope that zoos themselves would be proudly showcasing their work, but as I discovered last week on Al Jazeera given the barrage of attacks that Cincinnati experienced, many zoos are reluctant to speak up. So with the debate being a little one-sided, here’s some of the reasons zoos are critical to conservation.

The Role of Zoos in Conservation

1. There are 39 animal species currently listed by the IUCN as Extinct in the Wild. These are species that would have vanished totally were it not for captive populations around the world, many of which reside in zoos. For me, this is the single most important role zoos can play. Incidentally, it’s the same for botanic gardens too, but no-one seems to care about those!

2. For species whose survival in the wild looks in doubt, zoos often set up ‘insurance’ populations. These are captive groups of animals that could in a worst case scenario assist in reintroduction to the wild, should the original population go extinct. The Amur leopard, for example: There are perhaps 35-65 left in the wild, a species teetering right on the brink. But fortunately there is a long running breeding program with over 200 surviving in captivity. The Zoological Society of London, as an example, participates in over 160 of these programmes.

3. Reintroduction.It is often argued that zoos are bad because so few reintroduction actually happen. I would argue that it’s not the zoos at fault, it’s that a reintroduction can’t occur if the reason they went extinct in the first place hasn’t been resolved.

Amongst the most well known and successful reintroductions are:

The Scimitar-Horned Oryx, having become extinct in Africa in the 1980s, zoos around the world maintained a captive population and at last this year, a reintroduction led by the Sahara Conservation Fund has begun.

The Californian Condor, only 23 existed in the wild in the early 1980s. The last of the wild population was taken into captivity in a last ditched attempt to save the species, with chicks being reared at San Diego zoo. It worked. There are now more than 400 in the wild.

The Golden Lion Tamarin, perhaps the most famous of all reintroductions. In 2003, the Golden Lion Tamarin was downlisted from Critically Endangered to Endangered after thirty years of tireless conservation efforts involving the Smithsonian National Zoological Park and the Associação Mico-Leao-Dourado in Rio de Janeiro.

More than one-third of the wild population are descendants of the reintroduction program which has contributed significantly not only to the numbers of living in the wild, but also to the protection 3,100 ha of forests within their range.

Indeed the very idea of reintroducing species is new, and fraught with difficulties. It’s risky and hard. No-one wants it to go wrong, so give them your support.

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