In 2019, the then Department of the Environment, through the Protected Areas Commission (PAC) and the National Parks Commission (NPC), announced a number of initiatives aimed at enhancing the facilities at the National Park so that citizens can enjoy a safe, clean and relaxing environment.
This was at the time indeed good news, as, for quite some time, the park, known to provide much attraction for families and overseas visitors, had been deteriorating at a rapid rate. Guyanese who have travelled abroad could testify to the differences in standards with our local parks and zoo and what obtains in other countries. COVID-19 suddenly hit, and these facilities were closed for a substantial period of time, before a scheduled reopening of the National Park only was allowed. But even before COVID-19 and the imposed closure of the Botanical Gardens, persons were not that excited to visit the zoo and the parks because of several reasons: they fear they may get robbed, as vagrants and other idlers are seen hanging around; the environment is untidy and smells; and generally, there is hardly anything new and interesting to see, especially as it relates to the zoo.
For example, the cages at the zoo were occupied by a few birds; exotic cats, including the jaguar; and about two other animals. Huge snakes, caimans, turtles and monkeys were among the few animals that could be seen in the dull and smelly environment. And over at the petting zoo within the park, there were a few donkeys, turtles and goats; again, nothing that would cause persons to want to return, or encourage their family and friends to visit.
In fact, for years, visitors were complaining of the state of the facility. Some even openly expressed that they regretted paying their monies to enter the facility. Additionally, worry had been expressed over the condition of the animals, specifically the exotic cats. Concerns were also raised about the limited space the animals are usually confined to, especially since, in their natural habitat, they would be allowed to run about and climb and jump.
This is quite unfortunate, as Guyana has so much to offer, not only for locals, but for the entire world to see, especially as it relates to our rich biodiversity. This alone could be a major attraction for visitors when they come to these shores, hence strenuous efforts should be made to ensure that such facilities, more so the zoo – when reopened – are constantly improved and upgraded in keeping with international best practices.
It could be recalled that the PAC had started working with the National Parks Commission in 2012 to enhance the facilities at the Park. Under the Three Parks Initiative, the National Park had benefited from many improvements, but efforts to upkeep the standards were minimal, resulting in standards falling drastically over the past years.
The PAC had also engaged advertisers and other stakeholders who are responsible for advertisements, buildings and facilities in the Park, to encourage them to enhance same. Stakeholders who had sponsored walking trails and other infrastructure were also re-engaged, but we are not certain as to the success of these engagements regarding funding etc to maintain the facilities.
There is need for the zoo to be transformed from just a holding facility for animals into an information education delivery facility. There is need for other features, such as different zoning areas, including a Coastal Wetland Zone, a Savannah Zone, and a Mountain and Forest Zone, along with other amenities, such as information booths etc.
Most of us would agree that wholesome entertainment for families is lacking to a large extent in Guyana. On weekends especially, families look forward to taking their children to places that are interesting; where they can also enjoy a bit of relaxation and fun. The Zoological Park, National Park and Botanical Gardens are ideal places where this could be provided.
While the Government may take the lead in such initiatives, the Private Sector also has a corporate social responsibility which it must fulfill to the citizenry. The Private Sector must therefore show by its actions that it is serious about working with the Government in enhancing this aspect of national life.