Egypt Independent

Private sector zoo contract request raises concerns of privatization

Controversy has erupted recently around the Cairo Zoo in Giza as the private sector has inundated the ministry of agriculture with requests to lease the land. The issue becomes more important as the number of surrounding development plans–government, private foreign firm, or animal rights group sponsored–increase. One plan aims to raise the zoo capacity in order to attract more visitors.

The zoo is awaiting direct intervention from President Hosni Mubarak to finalize plans for its development. Review is set for completion by the cabinet as well as the National Democratic Party (NDP) Policy Secretariat next month, pending approval from the president. If approved, the zoo would be leased to the private sector on a 25-year contract, which would allow the company to use and profit from the land without actual owning it.

Minister of Agriculture and Land Reclamation Amin Abaza assigned Dr. Mohamed al-Jarahi, president of the General Organization for Veterinary Services (GOVS), to study the proposal of one of the private companies for developing and modernizing the zoo. Engineer Hussein Ghaneema, head of the Ministry of Agriculture office, told Al-Masry Al-Youm that the minister’s decision is limited to study and review. It does not mean that the state intends to privatize the zoo.

Ghaneema said that the ministry is taking into account the zoo’s social quality, describing as an important outlet for Egyptian families.

Ghaneema also said the ministry will form a technical committee comprised of experts from GOVS and the Zoo and Wildlife Central Administration. The committee will present recommendations on whether to support or oppose the plan.

A number of leading zoo and wildlife experts confirmed that the private company’s proposition is considered controversial and could be a first step towards privatizing the zoo. However, official sources emphasized that the plan will be an incentive for the state to put the zoo at the top of its priorities in order to meet international standards. Such prioritization might help raise the international profile of the zoo, and restore it to the international stature it lost in 2004.

Mostafa Mashaly, representative for the proposed private sector plan, stated that he intends to keep the name and history of the zoo as an important Egyptian monument. In addition, he intends to protect the environment for the animals and develop in line with significant advances in zoos around the world.

Mashaly added in a statement to Al-Masry Al-Youm that the minister of agriculture is enthusiastic about the idea, "because we are aiming to carry out real development and return the zoo to its former era.” He indicated that the final agreement requires the president’s independent decision.

Mashaly stressed that the plan does not intend to raise visit costs. "We strive to ensure that the zoo will be a gathering place for families.”

Translated from the Arabic edition.