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Keep anaconda at zoo

Monday, January 7 2013

The debate as to whether the 18-foot, 220-pound anaconda which was found recently in Caroni should be released into the Caroni Swamp or kept at the Emperor Valley Zoo should be decided in favour of keeping it at the Zoo both as a visitor attraction and in the interest of public safety and well-being.

Should it be released into the Caroni Swamp or even the Nariva Swamp or at whatever point in Trinidad and Tobago, the anaconda, because like other members of the boa family, is known to kill its prey by constriction, will post a threat, particularly to young children whom it may, unwittingly, mesmerise before attacking.

While an examination conducted at the Emperor Valley Zoo has proved false an earlier assumption that it was pregnant, should the anaconda, nicknamed Sarp, be released into an area in which other anacondas inhabit it may become pregnant and the potential for danger both to humans and pets will assume greater and clearly troubling significance. Kept in a secure enclosure at the Emperor Valley Zoo, the anaconda will remain an attraction rather than prove a danger, what with scores of visitors, young, middle aged and old flocking to view it and other attractions.

In this way there will be a plus side to the Emperor Valley Zoo’s hosting of the anaconda as the volume of admission fees collected would more than make Sarp’s stay there profitable. Already, as reports in Newsday have indicated, persons have been flocking to the zoo to see the anaconda, triggering a backup of motorised traffic seeking to enter the zoo’s compound.

While, admittedly, the anaconda is today a star attraction, effective marketing can maintain and even heighten public interest. Clearly, from a business point of view it is better to have the anaconda attract an increasing number of visitors to the Emperor Valley Zoo than having it roaming over a wide and unprotected area posing a constant threat to humans.

Our concern is in both the fact that the reptile is an anaconda and its immense size. It would be unfortunate to believe that the anaconda, if placed in the Caroni Swamp or another of our swamps would not, indeed there would hardly be the prospect of its attacking human beings who turn up at its place unintentionally or otherwise at its new environment. Snakes have been known to attack persons casually strolling in their own backyards, because they (the snakes) felt threatened. What would be there to prevent the anaconda viewing an individual’s sudden entry into, say, its resting place as an hostile action, an indication of danger. What would be the fate of a hapless hunter?

Although we do not wish to represent Sarp, or indeed any other anaconda or reptile as being far worse than it really is, it is better, as an old saying goes, to be safe than sorry. Let the anaconda provide a visual treat to the nation’s children and even the not so young, in a safe, restricted environment, with trained and traditionally concerned zookeepers preventing over enthusiastic individuals from seeking to prod it.

President of the Zoological Society of Trinidad and Tobago, Gupte Lutchmedial, told a Newsday representative last Thursday that while the average intake of visitors to the Emperor Valley Zoo (outside of the April and August vacations) was between 600 and 800 on a weekday, he pointed out that on Wednesday (January 2) some 2,200 persons visited the zoo to see the Emperor Valley Zoo’s star attraction. “People are travelling from Cedros, Point Fortin and even Tobago to get a look at Sarp”, Lutchmedial noted.

Meanwhile, what struck forcefully was Lutchmedial’s statement that the anaconda might be released back into the wild. He did advise, however, that whether Sarp would be released back into the Caroni Swamp was still to be determined. And while the President of the Zoological Society of Trinidad and Tobago may be voicing both a personal view and that of the Zoological Society, nevertheless we would hope there is the distinct possibility, in the interest of Sarp’s turnstile appeal as well as the anaconda’s possible danger to human beings if she is returned to the wild that she is kept on at the zoo. Let the increasingly popular Sarp keep the turnstiles revolving.

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