Manila Zoo sets up urban garden to feed animals

Marc Jason Cayabyab - The Philippine Star
Manila Zoo sets up urban garden to feed animals
he zoo management converted an idle 200-square meter lot previously used for horseback riding into an urban garden.
City of Manila Official Website

MANILA, Philippines — The administration of the Manila Zoo in Malate has come up with a self-sustaining way to feed its herbivore or plant-eating animals amid the uncertain times brought about by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

The zoo management converted an idle 200-square meter lot previously used for horseback riding into an urban garden.

With the zoo shuttered to the public since January last year, compounded by a community quarantine that shut down public parks and hampered supply deliveries, the zoo management had to come up with a way to grow its own food for its animals and personnel.

According to Manila Zoo’s officer-in-charge Alipio Morabe Jr., the seedlings were provided by the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Plant Industry and uses the zoo animals’ manure as fertilizer.

They started the project last April, and this month their labors bore fruit, with a bountiful harvest that supplied food for the herbivores – species of birds, carabao or water buffaloes, rabbits, zebras and elephants.

“We were worried that we would be short of food for the animals. I was worried for our herbivore animals, so we thought of using the animals’ dung for the garden, and within a month, the plants started to sprout,” Morabe told The STAR.

Among the fruits and vegetables grown in the zoo garden are ampalaya (bitter gourd), okra, eggplant, alugbati, mustasa (mustard), patola (silk squash or ribbed loofah), upo (bottle gourd) and kalabasa (squash).

The manure of the zoo’s only elephant Mali, who has lived in the zoo for over 40 years, was also used as fertilizer. The gardener was surprised that watermelons and melons, which no one planted, sprouted from Mali’s dung.

“Sprouts of melon and watermelon came out of Mali’s manure because she had been eating the two fruits,” Morabe said of Mali.

In May, Morabe assured the public that Mali is fed with nutritious food twice a day and given vitamins to ensure that she is protected against diseases, including COVID-19.

Several animal rights groups have called for the release of Mali, saying the animal has been kept captive from her home country Sri Lanka for more than four decades.

The zoo administrator’s fears for the animals’ welfare during the quarantine period prompted the management to be self-sufficient in its food, Morabe said.

“We need to be self-sufficient now. Because the supply is bountiful, even the people of the zoo share in the food, but of course the animals are the priority,” he added.

Manila Mayor Isko Moreno supported the zoo’s urban garden during the pandemic, Morabe said. The mayor has also supported the renovation of the zoo, which first opened to the public on July 25, 1959.

In January 2019, then Manila mayor Joseph Estrada ordered the temporary closure of the zoo to allow the Office of the City Administrator and the city’s Department of Engineering and Public Works to conduct a “proper study and assessment.” This was after Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu tagged the zoo’s sewage as a major pollutant of Manila Bay, with the zoo’s untreated sewage being drained into one of the bay’s estuaries.

The zoo has remained shut since then. When Moreno took over in 2019, he vowed to renovate the zoo and make it family- and animal-friendly.

The city government is working on improving the zoo with glass barriers to separate visitors and the animals when it reopens by late 2021, Morabe said. A fishing lake is also being developed.

Part of the renovation blueprint of the city government is a thesis by University of Santo Tomas architecture student Kevin Siy for the redevelopment of the zoo to make it closer to the animals’ natural habitat.

In Siy’s design, Mali will have a bigger pen with loam sand to cushion her feet. She is currently kept inside a concrete enclosure.

Morabe said the renovated Manila Zoo will be open to the public next year with better and more spacious facilities for the animals as well as a sewage treatment plant.


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