Thursday, July 5, 2012

Nigerian catastrophe called National Zoo: …Animals dying in droves, states’ funds siphoned

National Zoo or bastion of corruption
Pic 1. Photos: MAURICE ARCHIBONG. Copyrights Reserved

If you are resident or passing through the Plateau State capital, Jos; then beware: You could find a chimp, baboon or worse still, a lion waiting to board a bus with you. Yes, different animals supposed to be inmates at Nigeria’s only National Zoo have at different times sauntered out of their cells.

Weak cages, we gathered, facilitated such specimens’ escape; and on two occasions, when efforts to rein-in the escapee animal failed; the creatures were euphemistically put to sleep. Two baboons were the casualties shot dead here at the behest of this zoo’s authorities because the games escaped from the decrepit cages they were kept in.

Thus, instead of keeping animals alive for visitors’ education and entertainment, Nigeria’s lone National Zoo has become a killing field. In fact, no fewer than 12 animals have died at this zoo in the last 12 months. The dozen deaths in as many months at National Zoo bring the total number of fatalities here to over 100 animals in less than 10 years.

Such is the situation here, that; two games, a boa constrictor and a hyena had died on one day alone (11 September, 2011). This is even as two baby lions that disappeared from this zoo since 2008 have not been found.

On 4 November, 2011; a vet surgeon was saddled with the post-mortem report on one of the baboons that had been shot dead after it escaped from its cage. Similarly, on 24 December, 2011; another baboon was wasted in the same circumstance.

It could be recalled that the Chief Security Officer of National Museum, Jos and another worker at this repository were witnesses to the slaying of one of the baboons that took a walk out of their cages, here.

“Many of the cages inside the zoo are old and weak. This puts the lives of workers, visitors and other animals at risk”, a staff that spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed. Another vet doctor, who was contacted after a loose baboon was found terrorising people inside the zoo complex, had hoped to sedate the animal, so that it could be picked and returned into confinement.

And, attempt after attempts were made to lull the baboon to sleep by lacing its meals with tranquilisers, but alas! The animal seemed to become wider awake and even more alert, the more sedative it ingested alongside the meal it was served. “E come be like say the monkey chop witch”, is how one local that witnessed the drama relived the experience; where before a large crowd of excited onlookers, the baboon taunted its handlers to no end.
Pic 2.

As if to remind the vet and other zoo workers that man and monkey are after all ancestral cousins, the monkey had a field day, eating and feasting with reckless abandon without suffering any somnolence. And, when it was not kept busy with food, the animal turned aggressive and attempted to attack passersby.

Finally, in frustration; and, coupled with fear of the creature bringing harm to humans, this specimen was shot dead. It is, however, worth pointing out that weak and dilapited cages are responsible for the death of only a few games among the staggering number of such casualties here. Malnutrition, starvation and lack of drugs to treat ailing specimens account for the majority of the deaths that have severely decimated this zoo’s inmates’ population over the years.

“When nutrition is compromised over time, this leads to many other problems; especially, decrease in immunity to diseases, consequently resulting in the death of an animal”, according to an explanation given by another worker, who also spoke on condition of anonymity. As a result of poor feeding of zoo inmates, some diligent staffers at this zoo are frequently preoccupied with battling diseases that afflict the specimens.

You’d think that, after robbing the inmates of their feeding through alleged diversion of funds, this zoo’s principalities would at least squeeze out a little from their loot to pay for drugs to administer on animals so callously treated by man.

Sadly, however, inmates at National Zoo are victims of double jeopardy; for, moneys are frequently held back, making medical attention for ailing games impossible; even when doctors frequently reminded that: “Medical interventions need to be prompt and quick to improve the chances of getting positive result”.

Contrary to experts’ advice that “delay in release of funds, which aborts timely commencement of treatment could reduce the chances of survival of a sick animal”, National Zoo fat-heads are notorious for late disbursement of money for drugs to take care of sick specimens.

And, this is even in the few instances, when they bother to make any money available. The lion that died here on 23 February, 2012 is a good example of this nonchallance. Although the ailing condition of this particular feline was noticed on 10 February and request for money to fund its treatment made same day, the rather paltry sum applied for was released eight days later; 18 February to be precise. This would prove a classic example of “delay is dangerous” as the lion died later on 23 February.

Another poignant case is that of an ostrich, which needed urgent medical care and request for money was made on  5 January, 2012. However, no money was released for this bird’s treatment and the ostrich eventually died on 31 January.  There is more: On 28 June, 2010; four suckling mongooses were taken to National Zoo by a hunter. One of the quartet was seriously wounded, apparently through encounter with the hunter’s dog and died the following day.

The remaining three were consigned indoors, where they were being nursed; but, wait for one doctor’s recall: “One day, I saw the three mongooses relocated to a semi-lunar shaped cage outside, under a mango tree. I strongly objected to the then Chief Zoo Keeper, Mr. Ali Usman; explaining that because the animals’ thermo-regulatory apparatus was not yet properly developed; the mongooses would not survive the quasi-temperate Jos weather”.

But, Mr. Ali Usman ignored the doctor’s counsel. “One day, we found two of the three mongooses dead”, rued a vet surgeon at National Zoo, who subsequently revealed, that; the duo died from broncho-pneumonia, brought about by unbearable cold.

Curiosly, despite causing the death of two mongooses through exposure to excessive cold, Mr. Usman was still reluctant to return the remaining living one to a warmer surrounding. Jos Museum workers revealed it took the intervention of one Mr. Musa Bassa, an auditor, to get Usman to return the lone surviving mongoose indoors.

The circumstances leading to the death of a lion here must also be of particular interest. We paraphrase a post-mortem report that mauricearchibongtravels was privileged to read, “On Tuesday, 14 February, 2012; a male lion was observed to be lethargic and because the Zoo Manager was not in the office that day, she was duly informed next day, Wednesday, the 15th.

Instead of allowing vets on the staff of National Zoo to treat the ailing cat, the manager decreed that a former worker at this zoo (names withheld by us), who was now employed elsewhere be contracted to take care of the sick lion.

Interestingly, despite countless telephone calls, this former National Zoo employee did not visit the sick lion until four days later; on 18 February, to be precise. To worsen matters, no treatment was carried out on the sick lion during that visit. This preferred vet only took blood sample for subsequent test at the National Veterinary Research Institute in Vom, even when another vet sensing the desparate condition of the ailing animal suggested commencement of medicare urgently.

Our investigation further revealed that, whereas the concerned zoo vet was told that result of the blood test would be sent to him the same day, Saturday, 18 February, 2012; no such detail was received for many days. Interestingly, the sick lion was denied treatment until 22 February, when; alarmed at the beast’s state of health, local vets bombarded the preferred vet with phone calls until he succumbed and consequently directed that drugs could finally be administered on the animal.
Pic 3.

On 22 February, eight whole days after local vets began frantic efforts to save the lion, National Zoo principalities finally released money for procurement of drugs to treat the dying feline. Their action was evocative of “medicine after death” as the lion died on 23 February. Evidently, ostensible negligence on the part of some workers at this National Zoo is responsible for the decimation of the inmates’ population.

Curiosly, aside from their ostensibly belated intervention, the result of the lion’s blood sample taken since 18 February, by the preferred vet surgeon has not been received by National Zoo vets, to date (3 July, 2012). Also, the post-mortem report on the dead lion remains an unfinished business.

There’s an unforgettable antecedent here: The post-mortem report of a lion that had died of suspected poisoning at this zoo since 24 May, 2010 has not been released to date, more than two years later! Interestingly, when the zoo’s in-house vet doctor insisted that the skin of that dead lion should be preserved for possible future study, which could unravel the cause of death; that specimen was deliberately wasted: Incinerated. Burnt!

In the same vein, the post-mortem report on an ostrich that died at this zoo on 24 March, 2010; has also not been released to date, more than 27 months after! Such is life between inmates and workers at Nigeria’s lone National Zoo for you…

On 30 September, 2011; a rare Patas Monkey was also found dead at National Zoo. Although it showed signs of lethargy, fever and loss of appetite months earlier, in June 2011, the monkey died on 30 September, 2011; apparently due to lack of medical care. It is also worth noting that on 2 November of the same year, a monitor lizard died; and, on  6 January, 2012; another of this subspecies of reptiles similarly perished here.

The two monitor lizards were brought to this zoo in October 2011 and were kept together, but it was observed that these reptiles refused to eat foetal mass given to them. One of the duo subsequently died in November, while the other died on 6 January, 2012.

Post-mortem revealed the animals had sunken eye-balls, and their stomachs and intestines were empty. This probably means they died from starvation: The animals would not eat what was available and their preferred food, fish and insects, were not available.

“The animals obviously died of hunger” as we discovered from reading a copy of the official post-mortem made available to mauricearchibongtravels. The post-mortem confirmed what has been common knowledge among observers of this repository for years: Chronic malnutrition and starvation are responsible for the deaths ravaging inmates of Nigeria’s only National Zoo.

Although virtually every creature here is under-fed and therefore malnourished, “Worst hit are the carnivores (flesh eaters), who do not eat any other supplements”, we gathered. Following this, as I sauntered out of National Zoo, Jos during one of our countless trips here; a Yoruba adage, Enia ori’bi sun, aja hon’run, crossed my mind. Hear a Pidgin interpretation from a local I discussed this matter with: “Where lion wan see meat chop, when man pickin never see tuwo to wack” …

Aside from the rare species of monitoring lizards, boa constrictor, patas monkey, two hyenae and two mongooses; a waterbuck had also died at this zoo. The waterbuck was found dead on Sunday, 29 April, 2012; with its body covered by fleas. “There were blackish spots on the liver and the spleen was inflamed and discloured”, reads the vet’s report; which further noted: “Allotriophaga was observed with massive ingestion of polythene bags as well as poorly digestible maize stem in the rumen, reticulum, omasum, abomasum and small intestine”.

In other words, evocative of the fate of numerous other precious games that have been lost at Nigeria’s National Zoo; the waterbuck had become so famished it resorted to ingesting rubbish, including polyethylene sheets; because “nutrition”, which is key to any creature’s survival; “was compromised over time”.

Located within the sprawling Jos Museum complex in the Plateau State capital, National Zoo in under the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) and evolved from the former Zoological Garden under National Museum Jos. Specifically, National Zoo Jos falls within the NCMM’s Department of Heritage, Monuments and Sites; and, the upgraded zoological garden was later granted autonomy by the NCMM, which is an agency of the Federal Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation.

On 23 February, 2012; one of the nine lions at National Zoo had died and while relevant officials at the Jos-based National Zoo were yet to brief NCMM Management in Abuja about the loss of the lion, a lioness also died on Sunday, June 3. Worse, still; between the deaths of the two lions, National Zoo had also recorded the loss of one waterbuck on 29 April, this year.

Museum watchers blame corruption, crass nepotism as well as management’s incompetence and ineptitude for the alarming rate of deaths ravaging Nigeria’s National Zoo. Some of the dead inmates were part of National Zoo exhibits, while others belonged to dozens of specimens owned by Nasarawa State government but transferred to the Jos-based zoo for safe-keeping, pending the construction of a befitting abode for them in Nasarawa.
Pic 4.

Starvation, lack of drugs to treat the animals when they take ill and the lackadaisical conduct of this repository’s leadership are believed to be responsible for the high frequency of animals’ deaths at this repository.

During a visit to Jos, mauricearchibongtravels gathered from reliable sources that the dead lioness had shown signs of ailment since  21 May, but none could tell why the feline was denied treatment for about 10 days, until 31 May; when a man said to be a veterinary surgeon was seen administering medication on the large cat.

However, by afternoon of Sunday, 3 June, the doctor’s three days’ attention proved too little too late as the lioness died. Following the cat’s death, the carcass was transferred on Monday, 4 June; to the National Veterinary Research Institute in Vom, near Jos for post-mortem.

Meanwhile, investigations revealed that huge sums of money, believed to have run into millions of naira, had been routinely taken from Nasarawa’s coffers for the maintenance of this state’s animate collections kept at National Zoo. Indeed, the latest of such remittances to authorities of National Zoo Jos took place last May this year.

Apparently owing to perceived under-hand deals involved, the amount charged Nasarawa remains a closely-guarded secret. Also under heavy wraps is the bank account into which these disbursements have been paid over several years. However, insiders revealed N200,000 is monthly remitted to National Zoo by Nasarawa authorities for the feeding and care of its animals, there.

But, with deaths rapidly depleting Nasarawa’s games and other specimens in the collection of National Zoo, Jos; questions are being asked about the rationale in paying out staggering sums of money, when wildlife sent there for breeding and safekeeping are practically dying in their droves.

Emerging from National Zoo Jos, we were almost overwhelmed by emotion, even as another thought engaged our mind: “The conduct of some staffers at this repository must leave many animals wondering, who the so-called lower creatures are; the wildlife or Homo sapiens manning this place”?

What is the life of some wild animal worth? Considering the wide-spread and blatant disregard for the sanctity of human life in our country, where; for some inexplicable satanic disposition, Boko Haram members and their countless sympathisers see nothing wrong in detonating bombs inside places of worship and killing hundreds of human beings; the death of some wild creatures must seem inconsequential.

Apparently, therefore, any advocacy for the welfare of animals might seem tenuous in these climes. Moreover, whereas most Nigerians are familiar with the Human Rights slogan; it would seem that only a negligible few ever heard of Animal Rights.

Whatever the case, in our situation, where Human Rights seem perceived more in breach than observance, why should anyone care about Animal Rights? In fact, for millions of Nigerians, the majority of wildlife harboured at the National Zoo should actually consider themselves lucky; otherwise, they would have ended up inside pepper-soup pots or on a grill at some bush-meat spots long ago.

But, since what is worth doing at all, is worth doing well; Nigerians must take more interest in the goings-on at their National Zoo, for it is a reflection, albeit microscopic, of the entire nation itself. So, the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF), Nigerian Field Society (NFS), the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) and their US counterparts as well as every humane person must be interested in developments at Nigeria’s National Zoo and the leit motif of those in the leadership of the NCMM.

It is worth pointing out that over the years, this National Zoo has practically morphed into a classic metaphor for Nigeria’s endemic corruption. It was here, that a worker sent on transfer blatantly shunned management’s directive. But, instead of being penalised for insubordination, this particular employee was practically rewarded with promotion. Not only that, this staff; whose co-workers had often complained was running the repository aground, was eventually crowned head of the National Zoo.

Interestingly, it was a member of the then NCMM Management, Mallam Yusuf Abdallah Usman, who advised the woman, Mrs. Rahina Haruna Garuba, to ignore her transfer memo. It is also instructive that Mr. Usman, then NCMM Director of Heritage, Monuments and Sites; would himself later be rewarded with appointment as Director General of the NCMM.

Following the transfer of Mrs. Haruna Garuba to the NCMM-run Institute of Archaeology and Museum Studies (IAMS) also in Jos, a veterenary surgeon; Dr. M.C. Ekwuonu, was directed to take over. But, when Mrs. Haruna Garuba would not handover, the new appointee had difficulty assuming duty as there was no official document with which he could begin his assignment as this zoo.

Curiosly, instead of NCMM’s managemnt compelling the woman to hand over to Dr. Ekwuonu; an accountant, Mr. Sabo Bature, was put in charge of Nigeria’s only National Zoo at some point. When we met Mr. Bature during one of our numerous trips to Jos, he made serious efforts to explain that things were not that bad there.

However, when asked, if corruption and poor management were the reasons so many animals had died with dozens others looking malnourished and emaciated; the retort of an obviously irritated Bature was: “Animals die everywhere! So, there is nothing special about animals dying here”!

It could be recalled that Mrs. Haruna Garuba had been transferred to the IAMS, but she never showed up there for months. When she eventually did, it was with a letter that she was going on maternity leave. She did embark on leave and no questions were asked as to why she did not assume duty at her new workplace for months.

To the apparent irritation and consternation of obedient and diligent museum workers, the woman would later be promoted, instead of being punished for her disrespect to constituted authority. Critics of the Abdallah Usman-led NCMM Management see this woman’s special treatment as a peculiar reward: “It is either due to some relationship or for outstanding indiscipline”, was one museum staffer’s interpretation.

It is also pertinent to point out that, this same woman was keeper of the then Jos Museum’s Zoological Garden; when two baby lions practically vanished in 2008 and instead of Mrs. Haruna Garuba being queried and pressured into producing the missing cubs, museum insiders were shocked by what they saw as desparate efforts to conceal the specimens’ disappearance.

Reacting to alarms raised by union activists over the loss of the baby lions, NCMM fat-cats had explained that the animals were exchanged for other exhibits from Kano Zoo. But, in response, critics of the then NCMM DG had described this tale as “blatant falsehood”.

As it turned out, after two visits to Kano by this writer and tours of Audu Bako Zoo, which is under the ambit of Kano State Zoological Garden and Wildlife Management Agency; we had returned to inform the then NCMM DG, Dr. Joseph Eboreime and Mr. Usman, then Director of NCMM’s Department of Heritage, Monuments and Sites; that none of the felines we saw there came from Jos Zoo.

In deed, local workers we engaged in conversations through our guide also confirmed there was no lion at Kano Zoo that came from Jos. Following labour activists’ continuous agitation over the missing baby lions, NCMM top dogs had introduced some animals to Jos Zoo, which they claimed were got as barter for two cubs exchanged with Kano Zoo.

Interestingly, when some 80 per cent of these replacements died within 48 hours of arrival at Jos Zoo, antagonists of NCMM top-dogs were quick to scoff that the animals were bought from local hunters and rushed to Jos Zoo to mislead the public.

As if the missing cubs’ controversy were not enough scandal for one zoo, investigations also revealed that irregular feeding and lack of drugs to treat animals resulted in the death of dozens of exhibits, apart from the fact that many specimens take ill too frequently because the bulk of millions of naira annually remitted to National Zoo, Jos; this time from NCMM’s coffers, for the feeding of various animals and general maintenance of the place cannot be proven to have been judiciously spent.

As earlier stated, the National Zoo is one of the units under the Department of Heritage, Monuments and Sites (HM & S) of the NCMM, where Mallam Yusuf Abdallah Usman is Director General. Mr. Oluremi Adedayo was appointed Director, HM & S Department of the NCMM in 2010. Interestingly, Mallam Abdallah Usman is Mr. Adedayo’s immediate-past predecessor as NCMM’s Director of HM & S Department.
Pic 5.

The NCMM, which is one of the agencies of the Federal Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, has five other Departments: Museums; Administration and Supplies; Finance and Accounts; Education and Training Services; and, Research, Planning and Publications. The directors of the above departments are Mrs. Rosemary Bodam, Barr. A.O.S. Alasan, Mr. Bode Oke, Dr. Barth Chukwuezi and Dr. Musa Hambolu respectively.

Another matter that NCMM Abuja fat-cats must be at sixes and sevens about is the account into which money collected as admission fee to National Zoo Jos is usually remitted. When confronted with allegations that these proceeds had been routinely stolen, NCMM director of finance charged back: “Who told you the money is routinely stolen”!

Some NCMM worker had claimed the proceeds from Nasarawa State for upkeep of their specimens were always paid into National Museums’ accounts, however, Mr. Oke; NCMM’s Director of Finance and Accounts; could not give any account of such money. When confronted to explain under what sub-head gate-takings from National Zoo went, Oke said he no powers to talk to the press unless authorised by the NCMM DG to do so.

But, when pressed to confirm or deny whether National Zoo’s income from admission fees were remitted to his office, Oke’s response was that he was not even in Abuja at the time. Mr. Oke claimed he was bereaved and consequently on his way to the village for his mother’s burial.

Unfortunately, countless attempts over more than 12 months to reach Mallam Usman on this and other confounding developments at the NCMM proved futile as he would not take any call from us.

Indeed, Mallam Usman still refused to take our call, even after his principal said he would direct him to do so, considering the weighty nature of some of the allegations levelled against the NCMM Management, which he heads.

Pic 1: One of the lions inside National Zoo, Jos.

Pic 2: Caged: another lion at National Zoo.

Pic 3: Begging for food: A monkey and one of the famished inmates at National Zoo, Jos.

Pic 3: Entrance to the National Zoological Garden in Jos.

Pic 5: Mallam Yusuf Abdallah Usman, NCMM DG.

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