I.Coast's only zoo mourns lions starved during vote conflict

TN News

Email Print

The grungy lion cages in the Ivory Coast's only zoo stand empty after its three lions starved to death in April as forces for rival presidents battled in the city around them.

Around 40 animals in the Abidjan zoo lost their lives in the months-long conflict that ended on April 11 with the arrest of ex-president Laurent Gbagbo, who had lost November elections.

But Lea, Simba and Loulou -- the pride of the animal collection and who came from Ethiopia -- are missed the most.

They died of hunger, said Claude-Sie Kam, who has been in charge of carnivores at the complex for 14 years, pointing to the empty concrete cages set among verdant foliage in west Africa's biggest zoo.

"Their death pained me, they were pets," he said.

The zoo is situated at what was a flashpoint for the fighting that gripped Abidjan for around 10 days in April -- the culmination of a conflict that built over months.

Violent clashes between forces for Gbagbo and his rival Alassane Ouattara, now in place as president, trapped residents in their homes for days. UN and French forces were drawn in, carrying out air strikes.

At the crossroads of Cocody -- where Gbagbo hid out in a bunker for days -- and the Ouattara stronghold of Abobo, the zoo is also on the road to the country's biggest police camp.

After its food supplies ran out, the few guards stuck there were not able to venture out for more. About 40 animals died in their cages, zookeepers said.

Around 112 survived, from 25 species including monkeys, crocodiles and snakes. But the 80-year-old zoo is shattered.

The loss of the three lions, buried in the shade of century-old trees, comes just a year after the deaths of another main attraction -- five Libyan camels donated by that country's now-embattled leader, Moamer Kadhafi.

Kadhafi pledged the camels in 2008 but they were dead just two years later, succumbing to a "lack of care and from eating unsuitable food", a manager said.

The losses mean the number of visitors will likely drop 80 percent this year from the usual 100,000 annually, half of them children, said officials.

Eleven-year-old schoolboy Stanislas Kanon is among the disappointed. "I came to see the king of the jungle and admire from close up his mane, which we hear about in books. What a pity," he said, turning away.

Zoo managers accuse the government of neglect.

"There is only one elephant left," said administrator Bruno Seka of the animal adopted as the national symbol. "The Ivorian state does not look after the only zoo of Abidjan," he said.

The complex has a budget of 77 million FCFA (about 118,000 euros) of which 1.2 million (1,800 euros) is allocated to acquiring new animals.

But arguing for more funds is difficult in a country coping with severe humanitarian hardship after the post-election crisis which also killed 3,000 people and forced tens of thousands to flee their homes.

Researcher and chimpanzee specialist Simone Ban is among those fighting for the zoo, highlighting its potential as a forum for post-conflict reconciliation as a means to win it support and ensure it too does not die from neglect.

"A well-maintained zoo could welcome Ivorians of all political persuasions so that they mingle and see that even animals can like each other," she said.

Ban was among the few who braved the dangers of the combat to feed some of the animals, saving 20 chimpanzees from starvation.

She is calling for "urgent rehabilitation of the cages of the remaining animals and their medical care."

"This is the only way we can save the Abidjan zoo from closure," she warned.

More World News