As the government of President Muhammadu Buhari looks to diversifying Nigeria’s economy arising from the fall in oil revenue, one area that the country should look into for the much needed succour for the people is eco tourism, with zoological gardens and parks taking the lead in terms of visitor traffic and experience.
The huge latent potentials inherent in these conservation enclaves that are devoted to education, research, recreation and sustainable development as a whole are unquantifiable, but all suffering prolonged neglect from government and related stakeholders. The Nigeria Association of Zoological Gardens (NAZG) has therefore called for closer attention and proper funding for these veritable ecological heritages, so as to open them for better utilization and generation of revenue for the country and its people.
NAZG clearly stated thus: ‘‘With proper funding of Zoological gardens and parks in Nigeria, it is envisaged by the Association that this sector will reduce the burden of mono-economy by helping to attract more capital investment and generating more foreign currency, thereby boosting Nigeria’s economy. More importantly, it will conserve our natural endowment for the next generation yet unborn.’’
This call by the association formed part of a 15 point communiqué issued at the end of its National Executive Council’s two-day working visit to Jos, the Plateau State capital. The working visit was in connection with the recent incident of a lion escape at the Jos Wildlife Park and Zoological Gardens, as well as the various issues confronting the conservation and management of zoological gardens and parks across the country.
Amongst key statements in the communiqué, ‘‘NAZG hereby calls on Plateau State government and all other stakeholders of zoos and wildlife parks in the country to strictly adhere to international standards and practices, in order to avoid trauma to wildlife and other embarrassing circumstances.’’
Also to stem this tide, the association has committed itself to visiting all zoological gardens and parks in the country, in phases, with the hope of providing technical and consultancy services, as well as ensuring that ‘‘each zoo visited will be provided with detailed reports of its current status and areas that need immediate attention for improvement of such zoological gardens and parks,’’; so stated the Association in the communiqué, which was signed by both its National President, Dr. Olujumoke Morenikeji of the Botanical and Zoological department of University of Ibadan and its National Secretary, Andy Ehanire of Ogba Zoological Garden and Nature Park, Benin City, Edo State.
This pledge, the body said, is in line with its emergent role ‘‘as a national advisory and regulatory body, to ensure that all zoological gardens and parks are well funded and encouraged to follow internationally acceptable zoo management and development practices.’’
On the Jos Wildlife Park incident, NAZG stated that ‘‘following in-depth investigations of the incident, it is conclusive that materials fatigue from general dilapidation of the facility, is the remote cause of the lion escape, in addition to basic, and even unacceptable, logistical challenges. There is manifest institutional neglect from cumulative arrears in scheduled maintenance and required upgrades.
‘‘Considering the sensitivity of the relatively high visitor clientele, which includes school children and foreigners, there is culpability in operating public facilities without adequate safety standards and relative best practices.’’
Given that the park has remained as the most visited attraction in Plateau State and a key source of employment and revenue generation, the association is calling on the state government to accord the park the urgent attention that it deserves through urgent repositioning and the installation of a pro-active management system that guarantees quality assurance.
Also, NAZG said that ‘‘with its natural endowments of spectacular landscapes and clement weather, JWP should, expectedly, have seen significant expansion of its scope into resort development that rivals any of its kind around the world, but unfortunately, it has lost its shine and now appears in free fall.
‘‘While having some relief that there were no fatalities from the lion escape incident, the loss of the lion, being a valuable species in the collection, is highly regretted. This is a scary reminder of the potential hazards in zoo keeping, thus requiring adequate attention from policy makers. NAZG seeks to preserve public interest and confidence by ensuring that wildlife kept in zoos meet acceptable standards in terms of animal welfare, personnel training and public safety’’
The association, which has also pledged to work with both the Plateau State government and management of JWP, disclosed that ‘‘a comprehensive technical report on the current state of the JWP and issues emanating from the lion escape will sooner be forwarded to the Plateau State Government and copied relevant Federal MDAs in the regulatory environment.’’
At the national level, the association wants the federal government to recognize the importance of zoos and parks in tourism by ensuring their inclusion in the national tourism master plan, being one of the most visited tourism assets in the country, along with their urgent consideration for a Tourism Intervention Fund.
Some of the functionaries and institutions visited by the NAZG Council executives while in Jos, included the Hon. Commissioner for Tourism, Culture and Hospitality; the General Manager, Plateau State Tourism Corporation, National Museum / Jos Zoological Garden, Director, AP Leventis Ornithological Research Institute (APLORI) and Conservation Observatory of the University of Jos, as well as the Management of the National Veterinary Research Institute (NVRI, VOM) and Jos Wildlife Park (JWP).
Represented in the NAZG EXCO working visit were Zoo directors and General Managers including Alh Ali Yola of Kano State Zoo, Francis Abioye of Imo State Zoo, Aminu Mohammed of National Childrens Zoo, Dr. Walter Oyatogun of FUNAAB Zoo, Abeokuta, amongst others.