Management and zoo employees were all excited last week Friday as the Minister of Tourism Joseph Ross turned the sod for construction work which will change the face of the zoo bringing it up to world class standard for all of its animals and some quarter million visitors each year.
The upgrade will last approximately two years and cost some $58 million and will become an even greater tourist attraction when completed.
“This project is needed like yesterday,” Ross said at Friday’s ceremony. He added, “So, if we are to ask why engage in this major expenditure now in the face of the global financial meltdown — it is a moot point indeed. Not only is this project aligned with Government’s 2020 Vision towards achieving a first world status, but if one is to accurately judge the civility and development of a society, it is instructive that we look at how animals are cared for and treated.”
The zoo is managed by the Zoological Society of Trinidad and Tobago (ZSTT), and it has had a long and colourful history, but never more dynamic than in the last few years. It is involved, along with the San Juan Rotary Club, in an education programme which on a weekly basis visits primary schools throughout the country in an exercise tagged “Zoo to You”. ZSTT is also playing its part in looking after marine wildlife, particularly whales and the leatherback turtle in association with the International Funding for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
The Society itself was founded on April 23, 1947 with Mr JC Muir, who was at that time Director of Agriculture who was elected the first President of the Society. However, it was five years later, November 8, 1952, that the zoological gardens opened its gates to the public, under the name Emperor Valley Zoo. This zoo which today is well known throughout the country was so named after the emperor butterfly which lived in great quantities in the valley at that time. His Excellency Sir Hubert Rance, the Governor, officially opened the zoo to the public and graciously gave his patronage to the Society.
At the time of its opening, the gardens covered an area of 15 acres and consisted of about ten cages and 127 animals. Today, the zoo which is unchanged in both name and location has undergone continuous improvements to the facilities and steps have been taken to diversify the animal exhibits. Remaining true to the original intent, the focus has been on neotropical species although there are some exotics to satisfy the wider public’s expectations. It can still boast of being the only national zoo available to both nationals and tourists wishing to get a close-up glimpse of wildlife species.
ZSTT’s president Gupte Lutchmedial said the Society is pleased that its efforts to effect such change has come to fruition and acknowledges the support of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago and the Ministry of Tourism in this venture.
The Society, Lutchmedial noted, is involved in much more than the running of the Emperor Valley Zoo as recognising its wherewithal to make further contributions to the advancement of zoology, it is currently engaged in other activities using the opportunities presented by the Zoo and partnerships with other conservation-minded bodies. Fast becoming a much in demand service is the “Zoo to You” educational outreach project with the San Juan Rotary Club which takes some of the animals out to the primary schools throughout the country on a weekly basis.