Mr Andy Ehanire, the Chief Executive Officer of Ogba Zoo and Natural Park, Benin, has called for habitat enrichment in zoos across the country to boost their eco-tourism potentials.
Ehanire made the call during an interview with newsmen in Benin.
He said zoos in Nigeria were seriously challenged in the area of habitat enrichment and nothing had been done to carry out the necessary upgrades.
“Habitat enrichment is an approach whereby ex-situ wildlife enclosures are designed to mimic or simulate the natural environment where each species are found.
“Most zoos in Nigeria were designed based on expired concepts and very little has been done to carry out the necessary upgrades due to high costs and deficits in the creative concepts,” Ehanire said.
He also said that zoos in the country operated in a socio-cultural environment devoid of institutional support.
“What this means is that there are no institutions in Nigeria that cater for, or actively support zoo development.
“Zoos rely hugely on logistical and technical resources. In advanced societies, the organised private sector regularly set aside funds to be accessed for major projects in zoos.
“Unfortunately for us here in Nigeria, zoos are like islands or worse still, like orphans as they mainly rely on self-help to save their situation,” Ehanire said.
The chief executive officer said that institutional support could be in the area of sound technical networking, especially amongst zoos.
“Much of the knowledge brandished here are often dysfunctional and that is why most of our professionals are not able to put to practical uses the knowledge they spent years acquiring and professing.
“In the knowledge-driven society, there is the synergy amongst disciplines and between town and gown.
“Research and innovations are meant to flourish as to impact businesses, including zoos,” he said.
Enahire added that a good Public-Private Partnership (PPP) would improve zoo management and make it flourish better.
“A blend of PPP management strategy has worked for Ogba Zoo in Benin and should be a template for governments that are increasingly impatient with the feeding bottle mentality of zoos, being permanently hooked on life support,” he said.
Meanwhile, some tourists and families in Port Harcourt said that the zoo in the Rivers capital has no animals that excite them and make them to always visit.
Mr Nicholas Ikiriko told newsmen in Port Harcourt that his wife and children were always excited to visit the zoo.
Ikiriko however said that his family became disinterested at a point because they had been seeing the same animals whenever they visited the zoo for over 10 years.
“The point is that my kids who are in school want to see the animals they watch on television and the ones they were taught about in school.
“But whenever we go to the zoo, what we see are the usual monkeys, peacock, eagle, parrot etc.
“My children will always say, ‘daddy there are no giraffe, zebra, elephant, tiger, leopard and other animals we want to see’,” he said.
Ikiriko said that the family became disinterested at a point and stopped going to the zoo because they were not getting the needed education and recreation.
“My children want to add to their knowledge. Since we were not getting it, we decided to withdraw from patronising the Port Harcourt Zoo,” he added.
For Mr Tams Ibuluya, he disclosed that the excitement he had as a child that was always going to the Port Harcourt Zoo was no longer there.
“I have taken my family to the zoo five times at different festive periods but there is nothing new about the place.
“The children are tired of seeing the same animals and birds, and are no longer interested,” Ibuluya said.
He stated that the conservation of wildlife in the zoo was near zero and called on the Rivers Government to restock the zoo with animals after the reconstruction project going on there.
A tourist, Eunice Nnadi, said she was in Rivers to visit some natural and conserved sites in the state but there was nothing exciting.
Nnadi stated that the Rivers government was yet to exploit natural tourism locations in the state and particularly, the conserved site like the Port Harcourt Zoo.
“I could not have access to the zoo because it is under reconstruction but the last time I came, it was not up to what I expected.
“I want to see wild animals and birds in Nigerian zoos, but it is quite disappointing that the Port Harcourt Zoo is no longer what it used to be in the past.
“For me, zoos, beyond being recreation and educational facilities, are important because they serve as conservation programmes and allow animals at risk of extinction to live and repopulate,” she said.
An official of the Port Harcourt Zoo, who pleaded not to be mentioned, said that the Rivers government was doing its best to bring the zoo back to business.
“As you can see, the place is under reconstruction and the two showrooms are under reconstruction in this first phase.
“Modern dimensions of cages are reconstructed to replace the old ones built-in 1972,” the official said.
The zoo staff disclosed that tourists were complaining of seeing the same animals and birds for over two decades and it made the place not exciting to visit.
“The Rivers Government has assured us that exciting wildlife animals and birds will be brought in after the reconstruction, in addition to the over 10 animals and birds we have,” the staff said.
The official disclosed that the zoo lost its 24-year-old lion but was commended by the National Association of Zoos and Parks for keeping it for so long.
“Lions in wildlife live between 10 and 14 years, live 16 to 18 years in captivity in a zoo, but the one that died lived for 24 years.
“Again, we have an African giant tortoise that is 48 years old in the zoo, but I don’t have a record of how old it was before it was brought to the facility,” the official stated.
According to the official, the Port Harcourt Zoo hosts more than 500 visitors during festive periods.
“Our peak periods are the festive periods as more than 500 visitors come around for recreation and fun.
“But revenue is low because of the condition of the place.
“However, we believe that after the reconstruction and restocking of animals, the revenue will increase,” the official added.