A SOPHISTICATED R290-million master plan that was announced with huge fanfare six years ago to upgrade the aged infrastructure of the East London Zoo has never seen the light of day, leaving animals languishing in inadequate enclosures.
And, while wild animals take the brunt of insufficient budgets, the Buffalo City Metro facility is sinking more than R1-million into a fancy new thatched entrance way, ticket office and staff offices, the construction of which has stalled because, according to the municipality, the service provider’s contract was terminated.
Asked whether this money should not rather have been channelled into improving the living conditions of animals, BCM spokesman Thandy Matebese insisted the animals were prioritised by zoo personnel and that the ticket office needed "a better flow”.
By the time of going to press he had not yet provided a reason why the R290-million had not been allocated for the much-needed upgrade.
While the metro declined to confirm that four employees were recently suspended for stealing donated meat assigned for animals, Matebese conceded that thieving employees had been caught and prosecuted.
Matebese said more employees were required for the zoo to "function optimally”.
When Weekend Post visited the zoo this week, the following was noted:
Flies had ravaged the timber wolves’ ears and the tips were bleeding.
Two brown bears, named Emil and Jean, sat disconsolately in their sunken pit at the furthest reaches of the zoo. Fur matted and a bored, a cheerless look in their eyes, the ageing bears sat immobile on their rocks.
The ground squirrels’ enclosure was infested with about 60 grey rats.
Three jackals appeared to be affected by mange or another skin condition and one had a bleeding wound.
Although some of the primate enclosures had been improved and there were a few balls in the chacma baboon cage, there was little evidence of other stimulating play and feeding equipment in the concrete cages.
Matabese said the zoo was more than 100 years old and "many enclosures reflect the age of the zoo”. He said the zoo’s long-term plan was to align itself with the operational standards of the African Association of Zoos and Aquaria and once the association had conducted a full audit a cost estimation would be done.
He said the zoo played an important role in public education and conservation and was a tourist attraction.
But King William’s Town SPCA chairman Annette Rademeyer denied any educational value. She described enclosures as "hopelessly inadequate” and called on BCM to publicise a budget for improvements.
The manager of wildlife protection at the NSPCA, Isabel Wentzel, said the biggest problem was that the municipality regarded the animals as assets and tourist attractions.
She urged the public to "make their voices heard” about the conditions at the zoo, but said it was not possible for the NSPCA to close it down because zoos were not illegal.