It was recently reported in the media that the Department of the Environment, through the Protected Areas Commission (PAC) and the National Parks Commission (NPC), has undertaken 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 is indeed good news, as for quite some time now, the park, known to provide much attraction for families and overseas visitors, has been deteriorating at a rapid rate. Guyanese who have travelled abroad could testify of the differences in standards with our local parks and zoo and what obtains in other countries. At the moment, persons are 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 from a distance; 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 are occupied by a few birds, exotic cats, including the Jaguar and about two others. Huge snakes, caimans, turtles and monkeys are among the few animals that could be been seen in the dull and smelly environment. And over at the petting zoo within the park, there are 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, during a recent visit by this newspaper to the zoo, it was observed that visitors were complaining of the state of the facility. Some even openly expressed that they regretted paying their monies to enter the facility. Additionally, persons were heard expressing worry over the condition of the animals, specifically the exotic cats, which seemed to be sick. 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 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, et cetera, 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, 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 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 they must fulfil 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.