Imo State Zoo and Wildlife Park: A neglected goldmine

wildlife

It is always said that Nigeria is a country very rich in human and natural resources and blessed with a beautiful climate. The reality and reason why abject poverty has continued to ravage the majority of the populace has always been the absence of needed transformational leadership to turn these resources into their material and financial equivalent for the re-positioning of the country and improve the standard of living of the people. Imo State has its fair share of these blessings, but it is unfortunate that over the years, the state has lacked the transformational leadership that could turn many of its latent goldmines into enormous income-generating entities. One of such latent goldmines with great potentials, yet seemingly neglected, is the Imo State Zoo and Wildlife Park, old Nekede road in Owerri West LGA.
Imo State Zoo and Wildlife Park, before the appointment of Mr. Francis Abioye as General Manager by former Governor Achike Udenwa, had almost gone the way of other zoological gardens in Nigeria. There were few animals in dilapidated cages. There were virtually no administrative and staff buildings. Very few visitors came to the place and the environment bore all shreds of evidence of abandonment. The workers merely used the establishment as an address and rarely came to work. There was nothing to motivate anyone to be proud of working at the Imo State Zoo and Wildlife Park. The administrators of the state never showed interest in the affairs of the zoo and so rarely supported it in monetary terms. Even, any little disbursement made to the zoo through its parent Ministry was usually embezzled and the establishment starved of necessary funds.
However, a new era for the Imo State Zoo and Wildlife Park commenced with the coming of Mr. Francis Abioye as General Manager. A real professional and technocrat who studied Forestry/Wildlife Management in the university.
Mr. Abioye said he owed his success at the Imo Zoo to God who directed him at the earlier stage of his life to studying an agricultural related course. As a born-again Christian who had given his life to Christ in his teenage years, Mr. Francis Abioye’s success at the Imo Zoo is mainly due to his integrity and his refusal to compromise his Christian faith in exchange for any material benefit.
Mr. Abioye described his involvement with wildlife management as a calling and not a career. He loves animals, cares for them, speaks to them, understands them and his animals seem to reciprocate his love for them. They know him and play with him whenever he comes to visit them. The General Manager is deeply emotionally attached to his animals and according to him, he felt he could not live without these animals. This can explain why he has given the best to sustain these animals. It is amazing that in times of serious cash challenge, Mr. Abioye would even personally borrow money to feed and maintain his animals because he could not bear to see them hungry or sick. The uncommon passion for his calling is an indication that God brought him where he is- the world of animals.
The success story of the Imo State Zoo and Wildlife Park under the leadership of Mr. Francis Abioye as General Manager is not unconnected to his guiding vision and sense of mission. The current 7-point mission statements are first, to uplift Imo Zoo from one of the poorest zoos in Nigeria to an acceptable standard by improving and rehabilitating all collapsed animal cages, improving feeding of the animals, and improvement on animal collections. To ensure that all empty cages are not only renovated but also stocked with fascinating animals.
Secondly, to digitalize the operating system of Imo State Zoo with a modern administrative building, event center, modern ticket office, eatery, gift shops, and digital ticketing with CCTV camera viewing of the entire park.
Thirdly, creating wildlife parks with existing ex-situ conservation construction of modern electric fence animal padlock, with a semi-intensive free-range management system with game viewing vans to move tourists within the park.
Fourthly, acquisitions of rare crowd-pulling species such as Gorilla, Zebra, Giraffe, Elephant, Eland, and Buffalo.
Fifthly, the development of adult and children amusement facilities for fascinating tourist attractions. Sixthly, the establishment of an agro-preneurship skill acquisition center through the development of indigenous biotechnology and finally, tremendous IGR generation.
The General Manager has set goals in place towards achieving all the above as the first mission has already been achieved. Imagine how Imo Zoo will be after all these objectives have been achieved. However, these things cannot just exist without money. Already, Mr. Abioye has expressed his gratitude to Governor Hope Uzodimma for helping the zoo regain its land which the natives had almost taken over. He said he believed the governor intends to leave a legacy in the state in line with his 3R mantra.
The present administration in the state should support the transformational efforts of Mr. Francis Abioye at the zoo. It should be given priority in the reconstruction, rehabilitation, and recovery of the state. The state is in dire need of improved revenue generation capacity to enable it to finance its numerous developmental goals. Imo State Zoo and Wildlife Park have that capacity to immensely assist the state. In the task of recovering the state, all sentiments must be put aside for meritocracy to work. Mr. Abioye has also almost concluded plans to train about 100 youths from each of the 27 LGA in the state in grasscutter production free of charge- a high-income spinner. This would greatly reduce unemployment in the state, empower the youths, and enhance the Shared Prosperity vision of the present administration. The present administration should see the Imo State Zoo and Wildlife Park as a core partner in progress in the task of moving Imo State forward.
The visionary General Manager, Mr. Francis Abioye’s ideas in zoo management are inexhaustible and soon he will create a natural habitat for animals as well. Abioye is God-sent for Imo State Zoo and Wildlife Park. While other zoos in the country are almost extinct, Imo Zoo is booming with life and attracting visitors from all over Nigeria.

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