Kano is among the ancient and most historic cities in the entire African continent because of its strategic location, tradition, and commercial opportunities. Historically, it served as a transition ground between the people of the Sahara and vice versa, and created a multifaceted relationship among the people of sub-Saharan Africa.
The state harbors important and popular heritages including the Dala mountain, Gidan Bagauda, groundnut pyramid, Badala (ancient wall), Gidan Makama (Kano museum), and Kano zoo, just to mention but a few.
Among these, the Kano zoo and its botanical garden stands out because of its critical importance in terms of education, research, recreation, birdwatching, family outdoor, and cultural, and spiritual enrichment. It is the only semi-natural place now available for the public to connect with nature and biodiversity in the Kano metropolis.
The Kano zoo is one of the three oldest zoos in the country, having the highest number of animal species. Moreover, it is the only zoo registered with PAAZA (Pan-African Association of Zoos and Aquaria) in Nigeria. Additionally, the zoo serves as the base of the Kano Bird Club.
Most critically, the vegetation of the zoo serves as a carbon sink (absorbs greenhouse gases) mitigating against global climate change (since Kano is the most polluted city in Africa according to Air Quality Index and data released by IQAir AirVisual and Greenpeace in 2019 and 2020, respectively). This is one of the most serious environmental crisis affecting biodiversity, the environment, and humanity.
As far as I am aware, there are two large blocks of indigenous vegetation left in Kano metropolis, which provide habitat for urban biodiversity. These are the Kano zoo and the Emirs palace, supporting trees and animals dating back to the 1970s.
Meanwhile, Audu Bako, the first military governor of Kano State, considered as the father of Kano’s green revolution, established the Kano zoo in 1971. As a visionary and focused leader, he anticipated the need to educate the public via the zoo facility as a major step to curtail biodiversity loss. Here I quote from Audu Bako’s official speech during the official commissioning of the Kano zoo in 1972.
But my main objectives in establishing such a recreational facility are first, to bring to our people different specimens of wildlife with particular emphasis on animals which are not now available in this country, but which have been exterminated by hunters as from 99 A.D. but in the year 1972 we are trying to regenerate these animals that were long lost for our present and future generations to see.
“Secondly, a general collection of animals, birds, reptiles, fish, and insects would give an overall picture of their classification into different ecological areas.
“Thirdly, to collect Nigerian animals that breed successfully in the zoo, which can later be re-introduced into the game reserve…”
As someone who grew up less than a kilometer from the zoo facility, I still recall the good memories of the appreciation and value of the scenic environment, its plants, and animals, especially birds and butterflies that are always conspicuous. Certainly, I can say, this childhood experience, to a great extent, influenced what I do today, and to date, it is my favorite place in Kano where I love to spend my time the most.
Although animals should live in the wild – and as a strong advocate of biodiversity – the Kano zoo serves as an important ground for teaching hundreds of Industrial Training (IT) students a year. These IT students come from different fields of study ranging from Zoology, Botany, Forestry, Wildlife Management, and so on from the three universities in Kano and many others from Jigawa, Kaduna, Maiduguri, Katsina, and all over Nigeria.
Besides, it is a critical place where young people (the next generation of environmentalists and biodiversity conservationists) are nurtured and groomed. These same young people will soon be saddled with the responsibility of taking decisions on environmental issues, apart from appreciating the value of natural gifts, plants, and animals. Available information shows that the zoo supports hundreds of school pupils a week.
The current administration has consistently acted in a way that shows that it does not care for the environment or its issues; it has destroyed large green areas more than any other government in the history of Kano State. It should be noted that some heritages are worth protecting due to their contribution to environmental sustenance, education, social, and cultural significance.
The people of Kano State should not forget the cultural significance of the zoo during festivities such as Sallah and Christmas holidays. Thus, they should stand to protect this heritage through advocacy and awareness campaigns, and even petitions.
Elsewhere, governments have focused their attention on educating the public on current environmental and conservation issues happening at the global level. Why destroy the Kano zoo, a heritage laid down for nearly half a century? Because of developments? In fact, the government should have focused on other environmental issues in the state, such as unplanned developmental activities, environmental pollution around Challawa, and logging of forests.
At this time, vision and wisdom should guide current and future conservation planning, while doing away with self-interest that would have drastic environmental consequences on the Kano inhabitants. People should not have to leave the cities or travel long distances to experience nature, which probably informed its siting in the first instance.
While it would be a welcome idea to open a new zoo elsewhere, it is certainly not a good thought to relocate this important facility within the Kano metropolis.
Zoological gardens like the Kano zoo, if managed to international standards and practices, have the potentials to provide opportunities for captive breeding of endangered species, and understanding captive diseases of animals, critical for understanding emerging and re-emerging human diseases linked to animals.
A very recent study we conducted on the breeding and habitat ecology of wild heron populations in the zoo shows that the zoo holds the strongest populations of these birds in the entire Kano metropolis.
Finally, the zoo raises awareness and campaigns about plants and animals facing complete disappearance because of human activities. It is also a veritable source of generating revenue. Hence, relocating it would have short and long-term socio-economic consequences.
It is hoped that the government would critically look into this issue and rethink the purported plan to relocate the zoo in the interest of the Kano State people, especially students that majorly benefit from it, the environment, and urban biodiversity. Generally, this should serve as a message to other states in the country.
Abubakar S. Ringim, a biodiversity conservationist, is of the Department of Biological Sciences, Federal University Dutse, Jigawa State, Nigeria. He can be reached at: [email protected]