Abidjan Zoo: a Symbol of Recovery
Merely looking into the eyes of CAN, one could guess the harrowing experience the elephant went through during the turbulent political crisis in Abidjan in 2010/11. The elephant was born in 1992, the year Ivory Coast won its first trophy, and was named CAN after the French acronym for the African Cup of Nations.
CAN is one of the few fortunate animals that survived the political crisis which saw the death of six lions and other animals. Well, CAN is looking healthier now just as the whole Abidjan zoo is bubbling again with wildlife. The zoo in fact testifies to the new lease of life Abidjan city now enjoys.
No doubt, the Abidjan Zoo is a place to be whenever one visits the city. Unlike many other zoos across the world, one don’t just go there to see wildlife alone, the Abidjan zoo has gradually become a place of living history. Its location at what was the flashpoint in the fighting that gripped Ivory Coast in 2010/11 means it experienced it all first-hand and would tell the tale better.
When I visited it recently, I was told how the animals held on, some eventually surviving, others giving up just when the crisis was ending. I was told about Lala, an Ethiopian lioness that held on till April 2011 after the crisis. Well, she survived the crisis but was too weak to go on living. She died just when the zoo started breathing a new air of relief.
The guards and keepers said the animals died of starvation because when food supplies ran out, they could not venture out for more. The herbivores were a bit luckier; the officials said they usually come in very early to prepare the herbs and banana rations for the animals so they could survive. The two hyenas that survived did so by feeding on rotten bread. By the end of the crisis in 2011, many animals were dead; others were so emaciated that no one would probably have considered visiting the zoo. With the demise of Lala, the lion population was wiped out.
However, things have witnessed fast changes since 2011. The Environment, Water and Forests Minister Mathieu Babaud said the new hope is to create a “mini-safari” in the heart of the Ivorian economic capital.
True to the minister’s words, more wildlife have been introduced while the surviving ones are well taken care of. There are new lions in the zoo now, so are leopards, zebras, giraffes and other felines, primates, reptiles among other animals.
Altogether, there are presently 305 animal residents (40 animal species) in the Abidjan Zoo. The goal is to regain its glory as one of the most important zoos in West Africa and bring it up to par with global standards. For zoo director Samouka Kane, the end will be to have “the animals released to semi-natural spaces that are closed but that don’t make a chimpanzee feel like he is a prisoner.”
While the goal is still being pursued, the zoo presently relishes a healthy dose of hope, which makes it a worthwhile place to be on any visit to Abidjan.
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