Kinshasa zoo needs major makeover to woo back crowds

Kinshasa zoo (Photo: Pixabay)
KINSHASA — In Kinshasa's dilapidated zoo, the two oldest residents — a pair of Nile crocodiles called Simon and Antoinette — stretch out lazily near the muddy pond of their run-down enclosure. اضافة اعلان

The whole park is badly in need of a makeover to woo back visitors, whose already dwindling numbers have slowed to a mere trickle as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

But renovation work is progressing only at a snail's pace.

The pair of crocodiles have lived in the Zoological Garden since 1938, five years after it was opened by settlers from the then colonial power, Belgium.

"They are the oldest residents and the emblematic figures of the zoo," says director Simon Dinganga Tra Ndeto, appointed last May by the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN), which manages the country's parks and reserves.

Ndeto, now 65, was 24 when he joined the zoo, located on seven hectares near Kinshasa's sprawling central market.

Today the zoo houses only 94 animals from 48 species, while at its peak in 1958, two years before independence, it had been home to 5,000 specimens of more than 1,000 species, Ndeto said.

The few other cages contain a dozen monkeys, two buffaloes and a few birds and snakes, while donkeys roam freely in the grounds.

'Real animals'

Tickets are priced at 1,000 Congolese francs ($0.5) per child, 2,500 francs per adult, and 5,000 francs for foreigners.

On a recent visit by a group of students, a chimpanzee reaches out between the bars of its cage, bringing a hand to its mouth as if asking for food.

A little further on, a cobra ingests a bird, under the captivated gaze of children.

While some visitors say they are happy to have seen "real animals", many express disappointment at the absence of large mammals such as lions, leopards, giraffes, and elephants.

There are also no okapis, a smaller relative of the giraffe that is endemic to Congolese forests.

One regular visitor, architect Edner Nzodila, suggests that Kinshasa's hot climate was to blame in addition to a lack of resources.

"The lion, for example, needs large quantities of meat to eat, but I bet this zoo is unable to provide it," he tells AFP.

"We came to visit, but unfortunately there are not many animals left," says Aicha Diasivi, with three children in tow.

The tourism ministry launched the much-needed work last year, but the only evidence so far are a few metal sheets covering the zoo's walls and piles of bricks for repairing the paths.

The zoo's management says it has no details of the renovation plan and the ministry did not respond to requests for information from AFP.

Fiston Selego, a guide at the zoo for the past 12 years, says the pandemic has contributed to a decrease in the number of visitors from a few thousand to around 500 each week, in a city of at least 12 million residents.

But he also concedes that crowds have dwindled "because there aren't enough attractive animals like there used to be".

'We will repopulate'

Director Ndeto blames the decline in the animal population on old age and lack of breeding work.

But he insists that "the animals are doing well. ... They are fed every day."

"We will repopulate" after the renovation, in line with international standards and "animal welfare", he pledged.

Nevertheless, the zoo also faces stiff competition nearby — visitors wanting to watch wild animals in a beautiful setting need only travel to the N'Sele Valley Park about 60km away.

The well-kept and popular 18,000-hectare reserve is owned by former president Joseph Kabila and was opened in 2018.

A safari there costs 60,000 Congolese francs ($30) and in addition to the animals, it offers attractions such as pedalo boats and a 2,300m zipline.

Sometimes Kabila himself can be seen there on Sundays, posing for selfies with visitors.

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