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Published on Thursday, 07 February 2013 16:32
Visitors feeding the animals in Yangon Zoological Garden. (Photo-EMG)
City residents are shooting down a proposal by President’s Office Minister Soe Thein to move Yangon Zoo from its current location adjacent downtown to a national park on the city’s northern outskirts that is operated by the same business that has a license to run the zoo.
City residents interviewed by Eleven Media said they wanted the zoo to remain where it is. Its present site is convenient and children enjoy the range of activities it offers, they said. Some said they felt a bond with the zoo because it reminded them of their childhood.
“This is a place we visited when we were young,” one parent said. “If it is moved to Hlawga [National Park] it will be too far away. We want to keep it where it is.”
Veterinarian and author Myint Thein noted that “the zoo is more than 100 years old” and “is part of our heritage”. “We have to treasure it. If it is driven out of town, it will fade away,” he said.
“During the previous government we could not speak out, but we can speak out now. If they try to move our zoo we will stop them,” he added.
Soe Thein argued that the zoo should be turned into a green park and relocated outside the city centre because zoo animals smell bad and pose a health threat due to possible epidemics.
The minister said moving the zoo was his idea alone and he pledged not to proceed with it if public opinion opposed him.
Zoo lovers, however, questioned Soe Thein’s motive for wanting to move the zoo, saying his reasons made little sense. The smell of animals at the zoo is not recent, they said. “The smell is as old as the zoo,” said one visitor. “If it is so bad the zoo’s operator can get rid of it by installing the right technology,” he added.
Zoo visitors were unanimous in saying the zoo shouldn’t be moved because of an odour. It’s a good place to escape from the heat and the hustle and bustle of the city, especially for families with young children, one said.
Soe Thein said last week that if city residents wanted to live with the foul smell they could keep the zoo, but residents said they wanted to see the number of animals at the zoo increased.
They also noted that there was no housing near the zoo apart from staff quarters.
Yangon zoo is the oldest one in Myanmar. It was established in 1901 with private donations and named Victoria Memorial Park and Zoological Gardens in honour of Queen Victoria.
Located slightly north of downtown, near Kandawgyi Lake, it includes a recreational park, museum of natural history and an amusement park.
The zoo was leased to tycoon Tay Za’s Htoo Group of Companies in 2011 in a controversial privatisation deal described by those involved in it as a win-win deal. They said that once in the hands of a private company the zoo’s facilities would be upgraded, benefitting visitors as well as its animals. Visitors, however, have complained that in the two years since its privatisation the only change is a surge in ticket prices.
The managing director of Htoo Zoological Gardens Business Unit said it would follow instructions from the government. Htoo Group also runs Hlawga Park and received licenses for other parks and zoos throughout the country in 2001’s controversial privatisation deal.