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Zoo's new lions symbolize nation's return to normal

By Agence France-Presse in Abidjan | China Daily | Updated: 2015-04-02 07:45

The arrival of three South African lions at Abidjan zoo to replace those that starved to death during postelection violence in 2010-11 is a sign for many Ivorians that the country is getting back on its feet.

But the deadly unrest is still fresh in the mind of zookeeper Alexis Oulaye.

"The lions died under our watch because we didn't have any food to give them. They only eat meat. We ourselves had no food to eat back then," he said.

More than 3,000 people lost their lives and tens of thousands more were forced to flee their homes in the trouble sparked by then-president Laurent Gbagbo's refusal to hand over power, claiming electoral fraud in the 2010 presidential vote.

Since President Alassane Ouattara took over in 2011, the economy of the world's largest cocoa producer has been revitalized, expanding by 9 percent between 2012 and 2014, with strong investment in the public sector.

The Abidjan zoo was situated at what was a flashpoint during the fighting in the country's main city.

When its food supplies ran out, the few guards and keepers stuck at the facility could not venture out for more. Some 40 animals died, among them six lions.

One of the fortunate survivors was CAN, an elephant named after the French acronym for the African Cup of Nations because she was born in 1992, the year the Cote d'Ivoire won its first trophy.

A hippo, monkeys and snakes also made it, thanks to their dedicated keepers.

"We would come very early in the morning to prepare the herbs and banana rations for the animals. That's how we saved the herbivores," said Oulaye.

Feeding off rotten bread, two hyenas also survived. "But the lions starved to death," Oulaye sighed.

The lion cages stood empty for nearly five years, but the three new cats - two males and one female - have brought with them a healthy dose of hope. For zoo director Samouka Kane, they are "a symbol of recovery".

He said: "It's hugely significant. This will be used to turn the zoo's image around. There is no zoo without beasts."

Buying and transporting the lions cost about 50 million CFA francs ($82,000), said Environment, Water and Forests Minister Mathieu Babaud, who added he hopes to see them produce some cubs before too long.


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