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Inside Makurdi Zoological Garden

Drifting from the main campus road network into the dusty, bumpy path which leads to the Makurdi Zoological Garden in the premises of the Benue…

Drifting from the main campus road network into the dusty, bumpy path which leads to the Makurdi Zoological Garden in the premises of the Benue State University (BSU), nothing much has changed in the menagerie, said to be established at the creation of the state over 44 years ago.

Although the zoo is believed to have attained its peak of huge visitors in the 90s, it has however been starved of proper funding by successive governments, leading to its decline in every ramification overtime.

Renovated reception building at the second gate

It was once a sprawling recreation hub in the 90s according to many residents of Makurdi town, regrettably, the facility became deserted when hundreds of species of mammals and non-mammals inhabiting the zoo perished in their numbers, mainly due to diseases and malnourishment.

Not many wild animals are left in the zoo, but the present administration is toeing the path of revamping the ailing wildlife park.

Today, the mini zoo located on the grounds of the Benue State University still houses animals such as lion, tiger, antelopes, hyenas, snakes, grass cutters, crocodile and different types of birds.

The garden, endowed with natural and evergreen vegetable orchards at the waterfronts, and overlooking the flourishing Benue river away from the ever-noisy Wurukum Junction, provides a perfect picnic arena.

Double cage that houses hyena

Even though a lot needs to be done to restore the zoo to its former glory, a staff who gave his name only as Bonnie pointed at some noticeable facelift at the entrance of the zoo while he conducted our correspondent round the park.

Bonnie, who acted basically as a guide, said the animals are regularly fed, treated and given their due rights of existence as well as preservation.

Truly, the only surviving lion at the lair now looks healthier than it was over seven years ago when it hardly moved about within its surrounding because it was obviously weak and lean.

The zoo guide explained that the over 17-year-old lioness feeds on flesh once in two days, adding that the animal was brought as a cub in 2007 and that it could not reproduce since its partner, the male lion, died in 2012.

He noted that the lioness was at the brink of exiting its 20 years life span and there were yet no replacement despite frantic effort currently being made by the authorities to restock.

The cage housing monkeys

He further explained that both female and male lions would be needed to fill the gap since the surviving lioness may not be able to reproduce as they (lions) cohabit in their age brackets.

Our correspondent observed the spotted and striped hyenas in their abode close to that of a porcupine while a female ostrich said to be receiving treatment there was being kept temporary.

There was also the Bush Buck – a specie of antelope said to be brought to the zoo in 2015 alongside the spotted hyena from the Government House Makurdi where they lived until the inception of Governor Samuel Ortom’s administration which relocated them to their present domicile.

The guide told our correspondent, who observed the chimpanzee and monkeys eating beans and yam, that those species of wildlife are fed on a daily basis.

Bonnie, however, admitted that the facility lost a crocodile to the 2012 flooding in the state.

It would be recalled that in 2013, a private-sector arrangement was considered for the management of the zoological garden but after some time, the investors who had then mounted their signpost at the entrance to the wildlife park suddenly disappeared.

The then Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Barrister Comfort Ajene, under Governor Suswam’s administration had disclosed that key areas were mapped for development as a means of preserving the rich cultural and tourism endowment of the state.

“This will also create jobs for the indigenes of the state and reduce poverty,” Ajene had said.

Other areas being considered for construction as highlighted by the commissioner include the construction of the cultural village, the establishment of a recording studio, art studio/gallery and promotion of cuisine and culinary as well as the Makurdi zoological garden which she claimed was gradually re-stocking its cages with exotic animals of various kinds at the time.

But her position, however, contradicted the alleged neglect of the zoo then, which many thought was responsible for the death of the male lion as some tourists, visitors during the period expressed dissatisfaction with the welfare of the animals.

There are no doubts that then and even now, areas such as the picnic, museum, and restaurants are in dire need for enhanced running, good landscaping, restocking, proper advertisement and overall rehabilitation of abandoned facilities.

Our correspondent who visited the zoo then had observed a total state of abandonment as the untarred road leading to the place and the supposedly gardens meant to house the animals in their different shades were overgrown with weeds.

Although the zoo attendants at that time refused to comment on any issue, it was obvious that little or no care was given to the animals.

Today, however, the cheetahs, leopard, hyenas, crocodiles appear better while the once malnourished lioness looks good compared to several years ago when angry visitors took to social media, begging the custodian to free the wild animals into the forest to fend for themselves.

Even the workers seen at the zoo now appear happier.

Dilapidated office for staff of the zoo

The present government, though at a slow pace, is gradually revamping the place to sustain wildlife in the zoo.

Principal Special Assistant to the Governor on Culture and Tourism, Tahav Agerzua, said the state government was not leaving any stone unturned in making sure the sector becomes viable and attracts goodwill to the state.

“You are aware that last year, the state government commissioned an institute of Hotels and Tourism located at the former Entrepreneurship Development Centre; it’s a federal government institute so we (Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism) went into partnership with it and then commissioned the state’s own so we can train people in hotel and tourism. That’s one of the things we did.

“You also aware of the inscription of Kwagh Hir on the UNESCO list of cultural heritage under the Ortom’s administration.

“Ortom has also approved Kwagh Hir village so that all the value chain of Kwagh Hir from the production of the puppet to costumes and all other things will be done there but the COVID-19 has slowed down activities.

“However, we are working to produce a policy on culture and tourism so that our partners will know where they stand with us,” Agerzua posited.

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