Ibrahim Khalilullah works for a private bank in Dhaka. He visited the national zoo at Mirpur in Dhaka for the first time this June, along with his family, but didn’t find it an appealing place to spend a day off.
“It so dirty and smelly,” said the 29-year-old banker, who lives in Mohammadpur of the capital.
“Most of the cages are reeking with an unpleasant stench. It’s hard to even breathe around the cages, especially near the tigers, birds and some other animals,” he said.
Any visitors to this zoo will agree with Ibrahim the moment they walk through the gates. Banana peels and other litter is scattered all over. A dustbin, spilling over with garbage, greets the visitors at the very entrance.
Anyone who wants to spend a few serene and peaceful hours on their weekend, should certainly avoid this place, said Ibrahim.
The hassle begins even before entering the zoo. Vendors crowd around the main entrance of the zoo, posing as a nuisance to the visitors.
“The vendors harass us, insisting that we buy things like bottled water, peanuts, bananas or other things. We buy things just to get rid of them. Is there no one to take care of this problem?” a fuming visitor Monir from Savar asked.
Thirty-eight-year-old Monir Hossain, who works for a private firm, had come to visit the zoo along with his wife and two children for the third time.
“The glass windows of snakes’ cages are too dirty to look through. How can the children see the snakes?” he asked.
He was happy that there were enough spots to rest when one gets tired from walking around the zoo, but was not satisfied with the quality. “The resting spots are recent additions but these won’t be enough if it rains now,” Monir said, pointing to the darkening sky.
“The washrooms are also in a bad shape,” he added.
The deputy curator of the zoo Md Nurul Islam does not agree with all these complaints. He said, “The bad smell around the bird cages and the cages of the big cats is an animal smell and you can’t totally remove it.”
He said in the more developed countries the bad odour in the zoos was kept at a minimum by feeding the animals in a computerised way and cleaning up immediately after the animal is done with eating.
Admitting that the inside of the zoo was unclean and hawkers outside the main entrance were bothersome, Nurul Islam said “We are short of employees at the zoo. We need at least 250 people, but have only around 150 people right now.”
“We don’t have the digital facilities. Besides, the budget is also a problem. We get inadequate funds from the ministry,” he said.
Monir, however, had a few positive points. “I can enjoy sitting in the shade at least while the children play in the open space.”
But his smile recedes when this correspondent asked about the national botanical garden. “There are problems there. Security is a big issue. Besides, it is hardly a place you can take your family to because of all sorts of obscene things going on there.”
“I’ve given up visiting the botanical garden after certain embarrassing experiences there,” Monir said.
This was reiterated by businessman Md Sohrab Hossain and his wife Farzana Islam Choity, who had come to visit the botanical garden with their five-year-old daughter.
“There are so many species of trees, shrubs, plants and herbs, but it is so poorly maintained,” Sohrab said. “The tourism ministry could have earned a lot had it taken care of this wonderful place.”
“There’s no electricity in the washrooms except for one,” Sohrab said, disappointed with the recreational facilities in the country.
However, there were also people who were not quite so disheartened with things. Momotaz Khanam Koly, a student of Dhaka University, lives in Mirpur 6 and had come to the garden with her friends on 29 June. She said they had been visiting the garden for the last six years but hadn’t faced any such situation. “Maybe, those ‘anti-social’ activities take place deeper in the undergrowth.”
“Around 7 or 8 of our security guards have recently retired. Besides, recruitment is on hold. Still, we’ve been trying our best to provide security with 15 to 16 guards,” National Botanical Garden’s forester Abdul Mannan said.
Shaheed Zia Shishu Park in Shahbagh, the country’s national amusement park for children, is not much different.
Established in 1979, the park’s heyday is a thing of the past, said one of the staff on 5 July.
As the park opened at 2:00pm, around 40 to 50 visitors entered the park.
Though the park is beset with various problems, it still attracts a fairly good number of visitors, said a ticket salesperson.
“We have sold tickets worth of Tk 800,000 and Tk 1 million respectively during the two days of the Eid vacation,” he added.
Some of the staff said that certain unscrupulous employees regularly let the visitors enter the park without tickets. The allegation was found true.
Two persons standing at the entry gate were asking the visitors to enter without buying tickets. While the entry ticket was worth Tk 15, they were taking Tk 10 themselves.
The two hurriedly left the scene after being asked why they were selling tickets in person while three ticket counters were already there.
Asked if the authorities are aware of such corruption, the park’s manager Md Nuruzzaman said they take action against anyone involved in such misdeeds whenever there are complaints.
“We also advise our visitors through loud speakers not to buy tickets from anywhere other than the counters,” he added.
Of the total 12 rides, two are currently out of service and the functional rides were not in a good state.
A bouncing pad for children, Lompho Jhompho, was risky. At least half of the mats were torn and in a bad shape.
Shirin Akhter, a housewife from Shyamoli, said, her three-year-old daughter had been insisting on jumping around on Lompho Jhompho, but she wouldn’t let her. It was not safe.
The washrooms of Shishu Park were in a bad condition too. Shubrata Adhikary, a university student, said that the toilets were dirty and smelly. There is hardly any water in toilets, he added.
Manager of the park Md Nuruzzaman pointed to acute shortage in staff as the main setback of the park. “Currently we have only 30 to 35 staff members while we need around 90 to give people the best service.”
He claimed that the condition of the rides was good enough to attract the visitors. “The park is to be completely renovated with 12 new rides. It will take on a new look as the work is likely to be completed within December,” Nuruzzaman said, with the hope that the park would get a new lease of life after the work is done.
Apart from the rides, visitors were drawn to a side of the park where a large Banyan tree stands. A group of young children were climbing the tree and said they come regularly to the park as they enjoyed having fun around the tree.
The park remains closed on Sunday. And it is certainly heartening that the park opens its gates from 1:30pm-5:00pm on every Wednesday only for the deprived, poor street children.