Dr Olajumoke Morenikeji was the Director of the Zoological Garden, University of Ibadan (UI) between September 2010 and July 2016. She speaks with DOYIN ADEOYE on what it took her to transform the zoo, the intervention of the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Pastor Enoch Adeboye and what it actually takes to run a zoo, among other issues.
It was an exciting experience because when I started out as the director, we had a very small zoo which had a lot of challenges. I knew from the start that if there was going to be a turnaround, it would take a lot of hard work, effort, advocacies and speaking with individuals and organisations who could help. So I had to do a lot to make people buy into my vision for the zoo.
I started with a massive clean out of the zoo because when I got there, I met three refuse dumpsites which were quite huge. I got them evacuated and ensured that all the junks were removed. The maintenance team removed about three lorry loads of junks then. There was just a lot to be done, many of the building were dilapidated, and there was no educational unit. So after the cleanup and after having series of meetings with the workers involved at the zoo, I then embarked on a massive campaign, speaking with everyone I could. However, I really enjoyed the mercy and favour of God because people were really ready to help when I approached them.
For instance when I approached a topmost official at Sevenup Bottling Company Plc., who is a white man, he visited the zoo and after that sponsored the painting of the place, which gave the zoo a facelift. I also visited Nigerian Breweries Plc. where they gave us feeds for some of the animals. I approached Coca-Cola as well and we were able to set up a buttery that generates some money for the zoo.
I became the director on September 20, 2010 and between then and when the former Vice Chancellor, Professor Isaac Folorunso Adewole came in around December, I had already done so much. So I was invited to make a presentation to him and other principal officers of the university, where I showed them the state of the zoo compared to what a standard zoo should look like. I’ve visited some zoos in the world and I know what a standard one looks like. I presented the budget at the end of the presentation and almost everything on the list was approved.
Also I remember Pastor Adeboye came on a visit and I spoke with him about having an educational unit. I don’t know how I said it, but I know that whatever I said, God backed it up because the next time I heard from him, he sent a cheque of N5 million.
We had a new architectural design for the zoo and the transformation was really impressive. I remember Pastor Adeboye visited the second time and was really impressed with what we had achieved that he then gave us N20 million. So that was how the architectural facelift started.
We had the wildlife cleaning and laboratory in place; we built more enclosures and fixed the reptile house. The reptile house before then was absolutely empty. So we simulated the natural environment of all the animals in all the cages.
We also built a library and I remember visiting Mr Adeniyi Oladehinde of Ladson to solicit for help. After that he gave us 10 complete sets of computers. So people like these made it a wonderful experience for me and I cannot thank them enough.
Also Baba Adeboye came the third time and was impressed with what we had done in just one year, because by then the clinic and administrative block were all set and everywhere had a different look. So gave us N20 million again to make N45 million altogether.
So that was how the zoo had its facelift. The garden was commissioned in January 2015 by Baba Adeboye.
For the first time since 1949, we got a giraffe which costs over a million naira, because animals are very expensive. It takes a lot to transport them. So we got more animals which we never had before. We also got them in pairs so that they could breed.
Also, with about six lions, we had to do a lot of maintenance on their enclosure. So the manager of Sweetco Foods Limited donated N1 million for the renovation of the lion enclosure and we drew up a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), where he said he would take care of a lion for the next five years. So there are so many donors like that.
Some even gave us animals. Mr Kodi Ogbonna gave us a baboon which he said was given to him as a baby from the President of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Tony Daboul and late Alhaji Abdulazeez Arisekola Alao both gave us lions.
The beauty of the upgrading of the garden is that we now have more animals breeding.
For the first time, the crowned crane bird, which is an endangered species laid its own eggs and hatched it. The same thing goes for the peacock. So there was no need for us to go to hatcheries anymore. The owl also laid eggs and hatched it itself.
Also, we never had the crocodile breeding before, but now they are breeding and we have over 30 crocodiles at different stages of development now. Our lion gave birth to four cubs which is a very rare thing even in the wild.
What it takes to be a zookeeper
It takes a lot to run a zoological garden. Animals cannot speak, so you become their eyes, nose and feel for them. If there is anything amiss, you must be able to react fast enough. You also need to be observant as a zookeeper. Before, when the crowned crane bird lays its eggs, it breaks. So I went to the cage and observed it for a while and realised that the eggs rolls off as it fidgets and breaks. So we had to restructure the place and that was how we secured the eggs.
So it takes a lot of dedication, strength, observation and passion. They don’t employ people as zoo keepers in advanced countries except they know that they have a passion for animals.
It also takes a lot of money. For instance, it takes over a million naira to feed a lion in a year, and that is if you feed it with goats every other day.
I sometimes pass my night at the zoo. I remember before the renovation, there was a heavy rain one night, which broke down the fence of our eland, which is a large antelope. So I called the zookeeper who lives on campus and we both held the fence up with sticks until daybreak, so that the eland wouldn’t escape. So it takes a lot of hard work.
Wildlife consciousness in Nigeria
Unfortunately there is no dedication of government to zoos. Zoos are the most visited place in many of the developed countries, but unfortunately, Nigeria is not tapping into that. There is a need for awareness that wildlife is important because government is not doing enough when it comes to zoos and parks. In fact, every state should have a zoo. We have indigenous animals that cannot be found anywhere else in the world, which people will travel down to see it.
Kenya is solely dependent on tourism and it is such a lovely place.