I should have brought some catnip.
There are a lot of things that happen in Somaliland that just wouldn’t fly anywhere else. Like a car full of children, driven by children (see my previous post, Road Rules). Or a zoo where you can pet lions in a cage. Yes, you read that correctly. This afternoon, we went to the zoo, and I stood inches away from a lion and pet its paw.
The so-called zoo (Beerta Xayawaanka in Somali) is a ramshackle affair, hidden down a residential back street; entry is 4,000 shillings ($.66). The menagerie consists entirely of three lions, one lioness, a vulture, and two falcons. All of the lions are cooped up in tiny iron cages that reek of rotting flesh and lion piss. The inhumane arrangement is undeniably depressing, and yet there is still a certain fascination to seeing such impressive beasts at incredibly close range.
I mean, you can literally reach out and touch the lions through the iron bars. Indeed there was a small child who kept sticking his hand inside, and the zoo keeper himself poked a stick through the bars to deliberately provoke the lion and make him stand up on his hind legs. There is also one corner of the cage where the female lion, which is the safest one, sticks her front arm out to be pet by visitors. We each took turns to pet her paw. It was massive – the size of a person’s foot.
The lions are fed pieces of goat and goat foetuses. So, their enclosures are strewn with goat legs, goat thighs, decapitated heads of unborn goat foetuses, intestines, and random other pieces of stinking flesh. It smelled rank. The lions themselves appeared to be in good health, save for one which looked lethargic and ill. However, it certainly can’t be good for them to be confined to such a small space. The zoo keeper said they were occasionally taken out for walks on a leash. Damn, I’m glad I don’t have that job.
I asked the zoo keeper and other people for information about the history of the zoo. Evidently the lions are owned by Ali Mohammed Waran Addeh, the Civil Aviation Minister. He originally imported two lion cubs from Ethiopia as pets. When they got too big to ride around in the back of his car any more, he put them in the zoo. They then bred and had cubs. Apparently one of the cubs was given to the President of Djibouti as a gift when he received the President of Somaliland. I heard that some of the other cubs passed away.
After returning home from the zoo, I went online to see what background information I could find on the zoo. I did a quick Google search for “Haregeisa lions” and the first result that came up was a 2008 BBC article entitled, “Somaliland zoo lion kills woman.” I’m glad I wasn’t aware of this incident before visiting the zoo. Although it was reassuring to read that the Civil Aviation Minister had “shot and killed the lion involved in the incident.” Well, that makes it all better, doesn’t it?
One classy zoo.