Zoo, ministry mum on plans for animal enclosures

Udecott's design for the upgrades to the Emperor Valley Zoo.  -
Udecott's design for the upgrades to the Emperor Valley Zoo. -

NEITHER the Zoological Society (ZSTT) nor the Agriculture Ministry is willing to answer whether, in addition to the $56 million upgrade for visitors at the Emperor Valley Zoo, there are any plans for upgrades to the animals’ enclosures.

Earlier this month, the Urban Development Corporation (Udecott) revealed to Newsday that the budget for the planned upgrades to the facility is $56,265,878.14, excluding VAT.

The upgrades include a cinema, ice cream parlour, cutters bar, restaurant, exhibition centre, conference/meeting rooms, offices, an information centre, shops, kiosks, an amphitheatre and a play area for children.

This has since fuelled online discourse on social media, with many asking if there were any plans for improving the animals’ lives and livelihoods.

Sunday Newsday asked its online audience for their opinions on the topic.

Narrisa Mandol said, “Only in TT would an ‘upgrade’ to the zoo have nothing to do with improving the living conditions and quality of life of animals. The enclosures for most of the animals are way too small which is why they exhibit stressed behaviour!”

Sade Weekes said, “Y’all looking to make more money and create a place for people to lime. Nothing about properly conserving the lives of the animals. Some of them can only turn around in a circle. No place to run – nothing. Why are y’all doing this?”

Other users said they believe the zoo should be moved to another location, while some supported the idea of the upgrades.

Lifetime ZSTT member Stephen Broadbridge told Sunday Newsday when he first saw the plans for these upgrades, he felt depressed. The top priority for any upgrades to the facility, he said, should be the animals and their welfare.

He said he could not bring himself to go to the zoo since his last visit two years ago.

“The way the animals were looking…I just couldn’t do it. It looked like a concentration camp for animals.”

In this file photo, Mandela the giraffe waiting to be fed by patrons of the Emperor Valley Zoo. - Jeff Mayers

He does not think the potential increased profits these new features may bring will actually go back into caring for the animals.

“It’s about personal wealth and personal profit.”

However, he could not offer any details of potential plans as he said lifetime ZSTT members had not been invited to meetings in several years.

Sunday Newsday tried to contact ZSTT president Gupte Lutchmedial for several weeks but calls and messages went unanswered.

When Newsday called the zoo and asked to speak to an official on the expansion project, a representative told us to contact the Agriculture Ministry, since “that is their project.”

Sunday Newsday also tried to contact the line minister Kazim Hosein for weeks, but to no avail, until May 17.

He said he was preparing for a joint select committee meeting and that questions should be posed to the ministry’s corporate communications department.

Sunday Newsday e-mailed questions to the department, and the response outlined collaborative efforts between the ministry and the zoo.

Sunday Newsday asked what plans are being made to upgrade the animals’ enclosures and how noise from the new spaces for visitors would be managed, as well as whether moving the zoo was still a consideration.

The ministry replied, “For specific details on future plans for enclosures, measures to mitigate noise from new facilities like the cinema/theatre, or discussions about relocating the zoo, please contact the ZSTT directly.

“The ZSTT, an elected body under Ordinance No 12 of 1952, manages the design and implementation of upgrades and expansions at the zoo.”

It said the ministry works with the zoo to ensure the animals receive a satisfactory level of care.

It added that a Cabinet-approved project for the zoo’s development began in 2009 which consists of five phases. The most recently-announced upgrades, set to be complete by 2025, are phase four.

“This phase aims to enhance the visitor experience through an information and visitor centre.”

Previously under the Tourism Ministry, the zoo expansion project was transferred to the Agriculture Ministry in 2015. Udecott was chosen to take on the project in 2017.

The ministry added, “(We) remain committed to ensuring the welfare and conservation of wildlife in TT.

“We work closely with various stakeholders, including the ZSTT to support and

enhance the operations and facilities that contribute to these goals.”

Minister of Planning and Development Pennelope Beckles told Sunday Newsday the idea behind the expansion was to transform the zoo into a “modern, first-rate facility promoting tourism, local business, education, environmental awareness and biodiversity management.

“The decision was made to bolster the aim of furthering the initial zoo expansion project to exceed the expectations of locals and foreign tourists by becoming a highly-desired, world-class destination for persons looking for recreational, educational and entrepreneurial opportunities in TT.”

She added it would also encourage more young people to become interested in zoology and related areas of study.

“The cinema and amphitheatre spaces can enable educational programmes for schools and other community groups, family gatherings and a host of other activities focused on bringing people to the space and engaging in the services being offered.”


"Zoo, ministry mum on plans for animal enclosures"

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