Since I came to Port Harcourt in 2012, I have been hearing lots of things about the Port Harcourt Zoo, especially from indigenes and residents who had been in the city before me. “Oh, have you been to the Port Harcourt Zoo? It is where the lion escaped one time and started dancing in the street” or my personal favourite, “In the Port Harcourt Zoo, the animals all know how to greet and laugh at your jokes even if they are not funny. It’s a very exciting place to visit”.
Naturally, my interest and curiosity was piqued. Who wouldn’t want to have alligators grinning to their jokes? I mean…
So I asked them, “Where is the zoo? Where can I find this zoo with the dancing lions and happy snakes?” And almost immediately, the directions became very mysterious. “Oh, you can find it from Garrison side”, “Oh…if you are going to Trans Amadi, you will just see it”, “The zoo is somewhere in Tai Local Government”. Because, you see, none of these people had actually been to the Port Harcourt zoo. They had lived in Port Harcourt for years, and had not actually been to the zoo. And so, I decided I was going to go see for myself. I will go and see this zoo I have heard so much about, and I will take pictures with the dancing lions.
It took me four years to finally locate it.
Lol. Okay, it took me four years to finally stop procrastinating.
First off, directions
Finding the Port Harcourt Zoo is not hard. The Port Harcourt zoo is located right at the popular Slaughter junction in Trans Amadi. You can get there by taking a vehicle from Garrison on Aba road (which was the route I chose), or if you live at Trans Amadi, by grabbing a taxi from Peter Odili road. For those who stay at Akpajo and Elekahia it is also possible to find direct vehicles from there to Slaughter junction. Once you get to Slaughter junction, just ask around and you will be shown the entrance into the zoo.
Okay, now that I have given you directions to the zoo, and you can visit at any time to see for yourself, listen to the story of my own experiences.
Despairing does not classify the state of the entrance itself
You know those old primary schools you see in the village, with rusty gates barely holding onto their hinges, and pupils walking in and out with careless abandon? Yeah. That was what I thought I was looking at when I first caught sight of the gate. There were actually pupils walking in and out of the place. I jammed my hands in my pockets and strolled right in.
I was almost ten yards into the premises when someone called out to me. My skulking and self-conscious behavior had drawn some attention and the ‘Ticketing agent’ (I assume that was who she was, because she had on no badge, no uniform, and she was not sitting in any booth) sitting on a stool beside a transparent bucket filled with groundnuts tied into nylon bags, demanded I buy a N200 ticket. I did. After which she flashed a smile and motioned towards her groundnuts. There was a cage with a grey parrot beside her, as if to advertise the location. I was convinced and sufficiently buoyed.
I walked on in.
The zoo complex sprawled out in front of me. A large space almost completely enclosed underneath a canopy of overhanging trees. Concrete paths threaded their way among the cages with the peeling blue paint speckled with algae and spirogyra. And where the paths were not laid, green blades of grass peeked through the clumps of decaying leaves that littered the white sand on the ground. Choosing to go left instead of straight in, I walked towards my first cage.
The cages are so tightly meshed you can’t see through the barriers
The first cage immediately on the right had within a sort of wooden stool on a concrete slab and a couple of tires on the ground. Reclining on the stool was a black furred animal, I could only guess was a baboon or perhaps a chimpanzee or even an orangutan. The bars on the cage were double crisscrossed with metal mesh going diagonally as well as cross-wise. The effect not only undoubtedly kept within whatever animal was enclosed in the cage, but it also rendered it almost impossible for me to determine what I was even looking at.
The barrier was so tight, I could not see through it.
What sort of zoo is it really, if I cannot even see the animals inside? Security sacrificed at the expense of the purpose. Throughout the zoo, the same thing was repeated for most of the cages, (especially that of the lions cage), the barriers proving too tight to see through.
There are no signs on the cages
It was disappointing not to be able to see the animals I had paid so dearly (N200 is dear in this economy, my dear) and so, in order to determine at least what animal it was in the cage, I looked around for a sign somewhere telling me what animal was in the cage. And lo and behold, there was none. I decided to move on to the next cage and discover if the same was repeated.
You guessed right. It was. The cages have no signs telling visitors what animals are inside. It is left to the visitor to determine, whether by hook, crook or spiritual divination, what animal he or she is looking at.
No signs on any of these cages.
And then..when there were signs, it was completely wrong.
One sign there in between two cages containing birds says “monkeys”. What monkeys? Another sign on an empty cage says “Black kite”.
Maybe the Kite flew away.
A lot of the cages are empty
It is an understatement to say that I was disappointed in the state of the Port Harcourt Zoo. A lot of the cages I walked past were empty. Roofs caved in, grasses, and in some cases trees, growing in large tufts from the centre of the enclosure and the musty smell of decay and decadence so thick in the air. If there were animals there before, they will likely have fled.
Some of the cages seemed broken
When I got to the cage of the crocodile or alligator (can’t tell since I have no zoological degree and there was no sign on the cage) it was shocking at first to see the gap in the mesh at the bottom towards the bottom of the cage where an enterprising young alligator (or crocodile) could burrow through for a nice snack of Visiting blogger in the Afternoon. Some of the other cages that seemed broken into also seemed empty. A situation which was suspicious since the entrances were still padlocked. I mean, why waste a good padlock on an empty cage right?
Except the cage is actually not empty.
Sections of the zoo have been turned into a trash dump
Like it is common to find in some neglected sections of our fair city, there were trash dumps within the zoo premises; old nylons, food packs and other assorted nonsense. As a whole it made the whole thing untidy. While taking some pictures I spotted a young man bathing close by, my concern for his sensibilities as well as the threatening pose he effected, with the bailer in his hand like a weapon, made me leave there in a hurry.
Add that to the list, sections of the zoo have been turned into private bathrooms.
Where are the animals?
My main purpose was to see animals at the zoo, and not inspect the structure right? Okay. So I went around looking at the different cages, there were fifteen of them, the baboon/chimpanzee/orangutan, an antelope/deer/duiker, two monkeys, three ostriches, four donkeys, an alligator/crocodile/dinosaur descendant, two lionesses and one male lion, two herons/cranes, as well as bunch of other birds.
See the photos below:
Port Harcourt is a beautiful city, one of the jewels of Africa. With the influx of the visitors to the city on a regular basis, it has all the ingredients to be a veritable tourist trap in every sense of the word. A zoological park is one of the many different ways in which the government can generate much needed internal revenue for development projects. The state ministry on culture and tourism should consider the refurbishing and revamping of the status of the Port Harcourt zoo as one of the projects to be undertaken in this NEW administration.
In the end though, it was not all bad. I was able to get a nice and shaky (because my hands were shaking from fear) video of the lions roaring or coughing or something.
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