Dr Dayo Sowumi is the man looking after the Zoological Garden Ibadan. In this interview with Wale Ojo-Lanre, he gives an insight into the world of the animals.
You said UI ZOO is undervalued and underutilised, can you tell us what you mean by this?
Undervalued in the sense that a lot of Nigerians do not appreciate what we have here. They just look down at it and say there is nothing in the Garden, during the independence day celebration I asked some members of my team to take handbills to Shoprite and other places and an elderly woman precisely who identified herself as a professor from the University of Ibadan said there is ‘nothing in that garden, people don’t appreciate the volume of work and effort to keep a place like this running on daily basis.
What do you think is responsible for this?
Well, we don’t value anything we have that is Nigerian, everything somewhere else is better than what we have I am a university lecturer, I am sure if an Oyinbo man (white man) is standing here who doesn’t have 1/10 of the experience I had and we applied for the same job, he may probably be given the consideration over me because they will say those Nigerians what do they known.
And how do you intend to change public perception about the garden?
Well, one we need to put certain things in place, we need people to come in and feel they have stepped into a facility that is well maintained, that is well looked after, where they get courteous service from the gate, the zoo keepers and very important, we have to be more visible because we are not visible.
Just today some people turned back at the gate just because they feel the N500 entrance fee is somehow on the high side?
I am going to answer this question from two angles, one I can assure you if this facility is not University of Ibadan Zoological Garden but Ibadan (city Zoological Garden, nobody will pay less than two thousand naira to step into the facility and they will be glad to do it. I live in town too, I visit where others visit to get things and I know how much I pay, without mentioning names there is no other facility in Ibadan) I South West Nigeria and I dare say in Nigeria that has this numbers of animals in its holdings, I am not talking of parks now, I am talking of zoological garden, this is the only one. Secondly, people should remember that everywhere in the world gardens survive on support from public so when you pay N500 at the gate, you are supporting this garden, you are supporting the fact that some people are making strenuous effort to keep it running for posterity. Don’t forget a number of the animals are ageing, we have to start thinking of replacing them that cost a lot of money, excluding the carnivore lines , I am talking of the herbivore, the bird lines and others the garden spend about N188,000 weekly, then when you throw in the carnivore lines, they consume 30 in a week and we get not large goat, medium size goat so we are talking of something close to N190, 000 per week and the first thing I was inundated was the fact that the feeding was grossly inadequate because animals were growing, but the feeding regime was not growing with them. The first thing we did was that I sat down with them tried different formulae. We scale down from 30 goats to 20 and one medium cow We did the CBA, (Cost Benefits Analysis) eventually we stepped it down to 10 goats and one large cow and we also did the CBA if we do this, we would have a price increment of just about Ten Thousand Naira and feeding will be very adequate, so we feed them cows on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Is it not possible to rear cows and goats by the zoo instead of buying?
Well, that will be added workload to our staff which I don’t think we are in good shape to take on now. To do this, we have to employ extra hands, don’t forget this is a facility that runs 24/7, we don’t go on break Saturdays and Sundays so we run three shifts morning, afternoon and night and altogether we are just between 50-55 excluding the security men. We are making arrangement with teaching and research farm of the University of Ibadan to see if they can do that for us and we just buy from them. They raise stock and livestock, it’s an evolving relationship though we are still having some hitchdes. We are also thinking of starting a crocodile farm in conjunction also with teaching and research farm because they have a suitable location, we can effect some minor modification, if we take some there and they were able to reproduce that water body, then we are in business, we can now use University of Ibadan leverage to register business because they are protected we can register it properly with the appropriate bodies, agreed on how many we will crop per cropping season.
So what is the level of patronage since you came onboard?
Well, you also have to factor in recession but I would say average, it hasn’t dropped drastically, but it can be better.
You mean recession also affects patronage?
Yes it does, a father, mother and four children will have to pay N3,000 and right now it’s a lot of money as I am talking to you I am a lecturer at the University of Ibadan , I am on partial salary, I am not on full salary, so recession is also affecting me too.
How do you intend to improve the operations of the zoological garden to meet up with the demands?
I am here because the animals are here, if there are no animals here I will never be appointed as the director of any garden I will still be in my office as a lecturer in the Department of Zoology, so the animals get first line consideration in all things, one is to make sure, as I’ve said we started doing something on their feeding regime, also the enclosure need maintenance and in some places upgrading we need to take care of that too, we have to start thinking of gradual replacements of the ageing ones, there are some animals that have been here for 20 and 30 years, they are gradually approaching end of their lifecycle. I have been trying to make contact to donors, people that can support us in acquisition. Where I am having an issue is that most companies are not seeing this as a place that can give them the kind of visibility they want, they’ve forgotten that this is not an investment that can give them immediate profit, if you want to support a garden you are a long distance runner so you have to think like a long distance runner, the kind of budget we are going to give you, you need to have a good shock absorber to absorb because its expensive to be honest, so we need people who are genuinely concerned about preservation and conservation of animals. I have also started preliminary discussion to see how we can get some of our captive animals to breed in captivity, that takes a lot of effort and finance. We may have to network with other gardens where they have such animals and they have successfully induced them to reproduce in captivity, it may involve bringing a particular sex down or transporting ours to them. This will take a lot of process, we have to seek the consent of the university, it may get all the way to the council to get that done so that is as far as the animals are concerned, then members of staffs they are also very important. I have people that have been coming here 20 years and more, they are attached to those animals so they get second line consideration. I have told them animals get first line consideration on all issues during my tenure here, so the workers as much as possible within allowable resources, I intend to make them feel good about what they do. I enter the cages with them at times though this is dangerous, they will tell me not to pass certain boundary.
What will it cost to bring an elephant here?
Give me N10 Million and I will deliver an elephant to you.
How far have you gone in getting in touch with the non government organisations, network providers, banks and others for support
There are some things I wish I can say, but I cannot on record; but the first thing I want us to rectify some things. Charity begins at home, so I want to be done with my home front which is here, make sure certain things that should have been in place are in place because if I want to bring people that are into conservation into this place, there are some things that are on ground now that should be replaced.