In late 2009, a 360-acre parcel of forested and cultivated land was made available in Brigand Hill, Manzanilla by the community-based Manatee Conservation Trust through a lease arrangement for the establishment of a sister facility to the Emperor Valley Zoo. While the Zoo which is managed by the Zoological Society of Trinidad and Tobago, Inc. (ZSTT) serves as a major centre for wildlife conservation and education with a visitor-ship close to 250,000 persons annually, its location within a finite footprint, with no room for expansion has limited it from fully attaining its conservation and financial self-sufficiency goals.
In both the ZSTT’s executive plan of 2003 and current strategic plan of 2010 – 2015, the stated goals have been to strengthen the conservation agenda and move toward self-sufficiency. It was felt that in moving forward, the development of a sister offsite facility/zoological park would help in realizing these goals.
A recommendation to conduct a detailed feasibility study for the establishment of a Zoological Park in Central Trinidad was actually approved by Cabinet in 2001 (Cabinet Minute No. 833 of June 27, 2001), and this was completed April 2009. However, the findings of the study pointed to the general unsuitability of the location and the ZSTT took the decision to look elsewhere, subsequently taking up the offer from the Manatee Conservation Trust.
With assistance from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), the ZSTT was able to fast-track the development of this facility and bring it to operational status within the first year. It serves to house surplus animals from the Emperor Valley Zoo, seized and confiscated animals from the illegal wildlife trade and other animals in need of rehabilitation. The facility also supports a breeding programme for endangered species, and already some species of parrots and macaws have been released into the surrounding wilderness. Of significance is the direct impact on the ZSTT’s objective of self-sufficiency as it relates to food, as the facility and its vast landscape is planted with thousands of bearing and young citrus trees, abundant pawpaw trees and has numerous bearing mango trees scattered throughout. There are also two large fresh-water lakes stocked with fish for harvesting. It is anticipated that the harvest from these existing crops and from new crops to be planted along with the available fish stock would supply the facility and the Zoo with food for our kept animals. This would in turn significantly reduce the current food bill of the Zoo and contribute additional income through the sale of surplus to the market.
Plans are underway for the ZSTT to expand its agricultural production by cultivating 100 acres with short-term crops including watermelon, cucumbers, and sweet peppers, intercropping with bananas and other related species (moko, plantain), rehabilitating 100 acres of cocoa and enrichment planting of natural forest fruit trees (gulab jamoon, hog plum, etc.).
With BH-ARK operating at its fullest potential, the ZSTT is convinced that animal welfare issues including rescue and rehabilitation will be well-looked after. Additionally, the combination of aesthetics and a thriving agricultural estate, will present an opportunity for promoting agro-tourism, as well as eco-tourism.
Some of the animals at BH-ARK