It is a busy day at slaughter market. Buyers and sellers haggle over prices. The lurid smell of butchered meat embrace the air, its concentration increased by the heat from the Port Harcourt mid-day sun. The cluster of market stalls slopes down to a meandering creek smeared in the dark tones of the typical Niger Delta waters.
Vultures and pelicans hover from one side of a tarred road to the other. The slaughter abattoir on one side and a sprawling grove to the other side. The avian creatures have made the rust iron sheets roofing the abattoir their home- the huge dumps of stale meat remains an ever potent attraction; yet the quiet grove across the road seemed to blow an irresistible charm upon the community.
The wide canopies of the grove form pockets of enchanting shades beneath them and this picturesque and serene belt of wooded trees are none but the residence of Port Harcourt’s wildlife Park.
The entire zoo is set with blocks of metal cages and concrete structures carefully arrayed across the expanse, and concrete benches punctuating the soft sands with clouds of verdant leaf clusters hanging overhead.
The visitor is first welcomed by a grey-feathered African Parrot cawing from a mobile cage reposed on a bench by the security post; and from 20m away, and two pink-headed Ostriches peek at you over the low fences of their confines, bearing a funny expression on their eye brows, like “here comes another intruder”; you walk to the left and their gazes follow you, you notice this and decide to walk the other way and again the long necks twist towards your direction. You decide to make a smart move and you quickly turn into the far side of a nearby cage structure and just at that instant a big baboon jumps at net just beside you. You get scared and flinch, the baboon laughs at you with with its mouth wide open, revealing a set of razor sharp canines. The zoo guide comes around and wants to get you entertained in hope of getting a tip at the end; he knows how to get his baboon excite, and in an instant beats his chest in front of the baboon’s cage, the hitherto relaxed Baboon jumps up and and runs around its cage hitting and slamming the nets.
Two duikers forage on the short grasses in their cage on the other side. The duikers remain an irresistible sight at the zoo, with their precarious-looking slender legs and body clad in a coat of shining brown furs with freckles of white stripes lining their back.
A picturesque peacock neighbours the duikers. She saunters around idly in her cage flaunting her beautiful feathers for anyone who cares to have a look. A Mona monkey sits at the edge of its cage, picking at its golden fur as a poultry of three spotless geese quack nearby, intensifying their pitch as you attempt to take their snap shot with your camera. A pool of water in the next cage suddenly develops heavy ripples as a pointed dark-brown head rises out and in an instant a big leatherback turtle crawls out to the water edge.
The next three cages are occupied by Nile crocodiles with eyes wide open and sharp pointed canines pointing from heavily set and stone hard jaws. A large and heavily netted enclosure stands some metres away with a tall tree at its centre and floored by well watered grasses. Two lions amble from one end of the cage to the other. Their paws hitting the ground with calculated steps, their manes wafting in resonance to the breeze blown from the tree canopies.
Other animals at the zoo include kites and vultures, porcupine, python, monitor lizard and crown peacocks. A secluded building at the zoo had been fitted with wildlife trophies such as two stuffed lions, large leatherback turtle shell, stuffed vulture, stuffed antelope (burst). The zoo surroundings is neat and comfortable for picnicking.
These and many more are the sights and sounds of the Port Harcourt Wildlife Park. A time out at this haven of fauna wonder remains a must visit for all Port Harcourt residents as well as visitors to Rivers State.
This article was written by folarin
Founder of Naijatreks, Nigerian-born Folarin Kolawole’s photography and travel writing depict a passionate romance with nature’s endowments. He grew up in the small town of Akure, Ondo State. He is a travel writer, geologist, researcher and tourism activist. When not at work, he writes geo-scientific research papers and travels the length and breadth of Nigeria, exploring, taking photos, making videos and writing about her numerous hidden tourist potentials.