Sana’a Zoo animals need a better life [Archives:2007/1018/Health]

January 22 2007
Lion cubs attract the attention of many children. However, the zoo authority had to separate the male lions from lionesses because there is no space for more baby lions.
Lion cubs attract the attention of many children. However, the zoo authority had to separate the male lions from lionesses because there is no space for more baby lions.
Honey badgers eat wide range of food including birds and wild fruits.
Honey badgers eat wide range of food including birds and wild fruits.
Amel Al-Ariqi
[email protected]

“We try to keep the zoo animals from dying by helping them adapt to their new environment in captivation,” Sana'a Zoo, veterinarian Dr. Ameen Al-Qubati says.

Sana'a Zoo, which was established after Taiz Zoo, opened in 1999 and thus far has cost [a total of] YR 100 million ($735,000). The zoo is located in Darsalm approximately 15 km. from the city center, a flat area of rocky desert.

According to manager Khalid Al-Makben, Sana'a Zoo spends YR 2 million monthly for food and a million riyals in monthly salaries for the 47 staff. Open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., it has witnessed as many as 10,000 visitors on Fridays (the weekly day off) and 2,000 on other days.

Sana'a Zoo is proving very popular as a great family day out because there are few other places for public amusement or family recreation in this traditional Muslim city.

The zoo started with approximately 80 animals, including a lone gazelle, a turkey, geese, guinea fowl, three hyenas, six lions, 13 baboons, a few doves and other birds of prey, some small hawks, five monitor lizards, two porcupines, two hedgehogs, 15 mongooses and two baby hyenas.

However, Sana'a Zoo now contains approximately 300 animals, with lions, monkeys, and birds comprising its largest populations. Additionally, it has received several new types of animals, including two ostriches, four crocodiles, ibex and antelope from zoos in Sudan and the United Arab Emirates. Animals like tigers, snakes, cheetahs, lynxes and squirrels also reside in the zoo.

“Many animals are captured by villagers in the surrounding mountains and are offered for sale to the zoo, while others donate their animals – mostly birds and dogs – to the zoo because they can't care of such animals,” said Al-Qubati, who doesn't hide his concern about the methods local citizens follow to hunt such animals.

“Animals frequently are injured, usually with broken legs from traps. We don't want to encourage hunting with such violent methods whereby a hunter may kill a flock to get one animal, so we don't accept badly injured animals or those facing death,” he explained.

According to zoo management classification, the wild animal section includes lion enclosures, tigers, cheetahs, wolves, mongooses and lynx cages. A reptiles section contains snakes, lizards, turtles and crocodiles, while the bird section has various types of birds – from large wild birds like eagles and falcons to domestic birds like ducks and other fowl.

Sana'a Zoo management has mounted signs and information about the animals on some cages and according to these signs, not all of the animals are native to Yemen, as some were hunted and brought from Africa or other areas in Asia.

“It's important to create an environment identifying with the natural environment the animals used to live in to help them survive,” Al-Qubati noted, stressing the importance of providing good nutrition, a good atmosphere and a good living space.

Having worked at the zoo since 2004, he pointed out that animals were treated haphazardly because none of the zoo staff were experienced in dealing with animals. “Wild animals randomly were given heavy meals. They were kept in their cages without any type of exercise or training, so they became fat and nervous and refused to reproduce.

“However, we now try to follow scientific methods to feed the animals on certain days with specific quantities of food,” Al-Qubati explained, confirming that such methods have been very successful and encouraged the animals to reproduce.

“We now need more space at the zoo for the new generations of lions because we only have seven enclosures for them.” For this reason, the lions were separated from the lionesses to halt their reproduction.

Sana'a Zoo was designed with a particular construction. For example, upon entering the zoo's wild animal section, one is attracted by the row of seven large lion cages with crowds gathered in front of them. Despite their high-wired sides, the spaces are attractive and well built, each with a round concrete water trough, a few shade trees and rocks for the lions to climb and/or lay upon. Each also contains a cave-like area with a locked door leading to a small inside enclosure where the animals can retreat.

The same attractive construction is found in the monkey enclosure, which has become the zoo's most attractive spot for visitors. The 32 baboons climb among the many rocks, which is a very natural setting for them. The space also includes three stone caves built to provide shade and a large square water trough.

However, not all of the zoo's animals enjoy such natural habitats. For instance, tigers, cheetahs, foxes, birds, etc., are housed in cages with extremely limited space in which to move. “Unfortunately, nobody asked our advice when they built these cages,” one zookeeper noted.

He said the municipality responsible for Sana'a Zoo usually deals with architects to design and built such animal spaces. “The zoo's enthusiastic architects have no education in zoo planning and have never even visited a zoo! They simply obtained ideas from photos, television or the internet,” he added.

Al-Qubati points out that some animals just can't adapt to their new conditions in captivity. “Some mongooses can't survive simply because these animals, which are brought in by villagers, are used to following their instincts and hunting their prey themselves. They also are used to living inside their holes in cool weather. Thus, when they're put into cages, they rarely eat, they feel scared and cold, they become sick and many die.”

Zoo management recently prepared a proposal, of which the Yemen Times has a copy addressed to “involved authorities” and mentioning the zoo's requirements.

According to the proposal, Sana'a Zoo requires a training course for its staff, particularly those who deal with animals directly and daily. “Zoo staff must learn how to deal with the animals and how to raise them according to their behavior and nature.

Staff also need to know more about how wild animals reproduce in captivity, how to control reptiles and obtain snake poison for vaccines, what are the most common diseases among wild animals and how to treat them, as well as those diseases affecting both humans and animals.”

The report emphasizes that Sana'a Zoo must create an environment near to the natural habitat in which the animals used to live, for example, employing a decentralized heating system. “Such an atmosphere will decrease animal deaths – particularly in winter – and encourage them to eat, move about and reproduce naturally.”

The report also mentions that all zoo areas should have cameras to help monitor and watch the animals. Such surveillance will allow supervisors and researchers to study the animals and discover the reasons they may be bothered or threatened, the report noted, also referring to the importance of cameras to protect them from annoying visitors who may mistreat them.

Via the report, management also explained that the zoo needs an internet web site where it can download and exchange information about its animals with other international zoos and animal welfare organizations.

Twelve days after its opening, several experts from the Global Communications for Conservation delegation visited the zoo, saying, “With its large attendance, Sana'a Zoo provides a perfect opportunity for education and increasing awareness about wildlife and conservation issues, which is greatly needed in Yemen, a nation facing severe conservation problems.

“International non-governmental organizations (NGOs), governments and other donors can assist greatly by providing the zoo money and expertise for posters, maps and information boards. Additionally, short videos and audio tapes are very important in a country with 37 percent male and nearly 80 percent female illiteracy.” However, such suggestions haven't been applied yet.