Over recent years, and particularly since setting up this website in 2011, I have received a number of letters and emails from Nigerians who were young children in Ibadan during the period from 1963 to 1979 when I was Curator, then Director, of the University of Ibadan Zoological Garden . I read many of these messages with some surprise, not to say astonishment in some cases. This may sound difficult to believe, but at the time I had absolutely no idea that some of the small children who visited the Zoo with their parents were so deeply interested in the animals, or that the Zoological Garden would influence their lives, or even their careers.
I decided it would in many ways be useful to post some of these messages on this website, starting with the emails from Dr Femi Adebayo and Dr Jovi Otite – see the correspondence below. I confess I have been very moved by many of the comments made, and value them greatly as confirmation that my work in Nigeria made a positive contribution.
I refer to Dr Otite’s first email below where he describes a thief that was reported one night around his and his neighbours’ houses and that I turned up as well. This refers to a very unpleasant period following the Biafran war when there was a general breakdown of law and order, even outside the area of real conflict in eastern Nigeria. At that time violent gangs sometimes raided the University campus at night and on one or two occasions robbed University staff living on the campus and even raped a woman living there. The University’s response was to divide the University campus into two parts and place each half under the nightly ‘authority’ of a selected member of University staff. I was one of the two persons selected for this and for many weeks headed a motley crew armed with spears and old Dane guns that, in a vehicle, paraded around one half of the campus at night enforcing the nightly ban on all pedestrian movement! In his email Dr Otite is referring to a night when my nocturnal truckload of ‘soldiers’ was responding to a call for help from someone in his residential area. I shall not forget those days!
I should also mention that, when Dr Otite addresses me as ‘Uncle’, this is simply a way in which Nigerians show respect to a close but older person.
When I left my post there in 1979, the Zoo was attracting nearly a quarter of a million paying visitors each year, more than any other public attraction in Nigeria. I am delighted to know that it played a role in educating the general public about the wonder and value of Nigeria’s, and indeed Africa’s, wildlife, and that it even helped to shape the future career choice of some young Nigerians.
Thank you to all who have written to me. You made my day!
Bob Golding, Bristol, England, 2017.