“The Giza Zoo is open to visitors. What has been circulating about it closing down is completely untrue,” Mohamed Ragei, head of the Ministry of Agriculture’s Department of Zoos and Wildlife Conservation, wrote on the zoo’s Facebook page on Saturday.
The comment came after it was announced in December that a military-owned company has been awarded a 25-year contract to renovate both the Giza Zoo and the Orman Gardens in Cairo.
The company, the National Military Production Company for Projects, Engineering Consultations, and General Supplies, is to start renovating the sites this month.
Parliament approved the transfer of the management of both institutions from the Ministry of Agriculture to the Ministry of Military Production in December. It was announced at the time that the renovation of the zoo would last a maximum of 18 months, after which the animals would be living in open-range spaces with no cages and with pre-set paths for visitors.
Head of the Ministry of Agriculture’s Veterinary Services Department Ehab Saber told TV host Gaber Al-Qarmouti that the renovation was necessary for the welfare of the animals that need conditions resembling their original habitats.
“These animals used to live in the wild, and they should not be treated like domestic animals. They need special care, and visitors also need to see healthy animals,” Saber said.
According to the Giza Zoo website, the khedive Ismail (1863-1879), the then ruler of Egypt, planned the opening of the zoo on the occasion of the inauguration of the Suez Canal in 1869.
It was eventually opened in 1891 and is the third-oldest zoo in the world and the oldest in Africa. However, years of neglect led to its removal from the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums in 2004.
“I think it is a good idea to renovate the zoo, but I hope that the tickets will not now be too expensive for us. We really enjoy our outings to the zoo every month,” said Hana, the mother of three children in Cairo.
“I enjoyed my day at the zoo with my little boy,” said Hassan, a visitor. “We liked the giraffe and the lions, but I was disappointed to learn that the elephant had died. I really think the place is beautiful. It doesn’t need renovation because that would mean the style of the place will change, and I really like it as it is,” he added.
The zoo has many lakes, including one around the famous Tea Island in the middle of the zoo that serves as a restaurant. Nearby is a bandstand and a music booth to entertain visitors.
The zoo contains five grottoes, the most famous being the citadel grotto whose pathways are made of coloured pebbles. It is also full of streams and bridges that weave the area together.
Entrance to the zoo currently costs LE5 for Egyptians and LE20 for foreigners.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 5 January, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly