In its current issue of 5 February 2023, Watani publishes a story on the Giza Zoo, a venue which has had an undeniable imprint in the memories of many generations of Egyptians. Opened in 1891, during the same era as the Vienna, Paris and London zoos, the Giza Zoo was once among the most prestigious in the world.
The Watani story, titled “An extensive plan to develop the Zoo and restore its splendour”, exposes the deplorable current state of the Giza Zoo, shedding light on its dilapidated infrastructure, and its neglected plant, tree and animal wealth. To reassure its readers, Watani then sounds the opinions of experts on the features of the anticipated development. I note here some of their opinions.
Minister of Agriculture and Land Reclamation, El-Sayed El-Quseir pointed out that both the Giza Zoo and the Orman Botanical Garden are under development. This, he said, is carried out in partnership with local and international experts; the development aims at achieving a leap in the services offered.
According to Khaled El-Adly, Giza Governor, the Zoo development project looks to restore it to its previous glory and to benefit from it as a park. Historical buildings in the Zoo and Orman Garden will be restored, he said, and a cable car will run between the two parks. Mr Adly added that a netting tent area will be set up, a hotel and eco-camp built, and the Plaza area developed. Giza Governor said that traffic in the area will be reorganised, and tunnels built if needs be.
Maged El-Serty, Chairman of the board of the company developing the Zoo said that after the renovation, the park will be an open-range space with no cages. He explained that this will give visitors the opportunity to enjoy their visit as if in the wild, but without any hazards.
Watani offers various opinions regarding the development project of the Giza Zoo, including renovation of its facilities, buildings and paths, and connecting it with the Orman Garden. Yet I was especially intrigued by a specific issue which I evoked in previous editorials, and which I consider the focal point. This is the concept of freeing animals from their cages, a vital concept adopted by zoos around the world during the last few decades. The time has come for humans to abandon their arrogance and pride in possessing collections of wild or marine animals, also of birds, reptiles and insects, keeping them in cages under siege. I believe humans must stop encroaching on the freedom of animals by appointing themselves as guardians who provide the animals’ housing and nutrition, and decide the parameters of their movement. They usurp the natural habitat of the animal kingdom in order to entertain other humans. What a cruel and miserable pleasure built on encroaching against wildlife!
In this context I was drawn to Mr Serty’s declaration that the Zoo will be an open-range space with no cages, and that the highest international security measures will be observed, to allow visitors to enjoy the animals as if in the wild, yet without hazards.
Years ago, I reviewed civilised forms that have replaced “cage zoos” around the world. Adopting one of these modern forms does not imply that the heritage of the Giza Zoo would be wiped out; it will remain, together with the Orman Botanical Garden, a splendid tree and plant natural reserve. The two parks encompass magnificent plant collections that attract Egyptians and visitors, and represent a great breather for the capital. However, the concept of sheltering wildlife in all its forms and diversity, should move to one of two alternatives: safari parks, or nature reserves.
The safari park alternative would imply taking the zoo animals out of the narrow urban cordon that today houses the Zoo and prevents its development for the benefit of the animals. The animals would be moved to an area of vast land, of which Egypt has plenty. The open space can be planned to be home to various wildlife: animals, birds, reptiles and insects, in a way that would allow them all the freedom to move freely in an environment similar to their natural habitat. Visitors would stroll around these areas in safe paths set up so that they do not encroach on the natural movement of wildlife. Cages would not be allowed, and any contact with humans whether through feeding, riding, or taking selfies with the animals would be banned.
The nature reserve alternative is what I regard as the epitome of human refinement when it comes to human contact with nature, given that humans have no right to take any creature out of their natural habitat for the sake of entertaining other humans. Nature reserves do not support hosting specimens that do not belong to the same geographical or meteorological conditions of their habitat, such as taking polar animals or equatorial birds to other climates. Instead, areas that are home to specific species of wildlife would have their borders demarcated to assign them as nature reserves where native wildlife is protected and human interference banned. Visitors of these reserves would enjoy watching the natural area created by the Almighty without any arrogant human intervention or obstruction.
3 February 2023
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