There are several ways to pass the time on a Saturday morning. You could head into town for breakfast, go for a potter, or sit back with a pot of coffee and the weekend papers. Or you could sweep up the shit from Colonel Gaddafi’s camel.
Valerie, a straggly but otherwise healthy camel, was rescued as Gaddafi’s palace was captured in Libya, and she was sent to Accra Zoo, hidden away in Achimota Forest in the north of the city. Martin, one of the keepers, was cutting grass for Valerie the camel when I arrived (I had heard about the zoo and volunteered to help out). So while she munched away, we swept out the enclosure. Camels dropping are surprisingly small and perfectly round, so it ended up as a game of poo marbles as I tried to sweep them into a neat pile and they kept rolling away.
The plan was for me to help build swings and ropes for the zoo’s primates, which were also rescued from captivity. But the equipment we needed was locked in the office, and no one had the key, so instead I helped out with the daily routine.
Valerie’s enclosure was soon clean, and the next task was to feed the warthogs. The mother watched me carefully as I approached, while her new brood squealed nervously and ran around in circles. But as soon as the grass was thrown into their enclosure, all concerns were forgotten and everyone tucked in.
Martin then took me further into the forest to cut a certain type of plant – name unknown – for the duikers. The forest is full of birdlife, and also supports a small population of wild duikers and spot-nosed monkeys.
But how long they remain is doubtful; the forest is enclosed, and increasingly threatened, by several fast-growing housing developments, with West Legon University forming a barrier to the north and a new motorway to the south of the forest. Efforts to protect the forest as an urban wildlife reserve have to yet come to fruition, despite many years of discussion. Land in Accra is far more profitable when used for housing than forest.
Once the feeding was complete, I visited the other animals. Two emus guarded their eggs, while nearby the mongoose and snake slept. The lone crocodile hid in an overgrown pool, and the hyena hid when I approached, suggesting it had suffered from humans when in captivity. The birdcages were crowded with different species – all rescued and unable to fend for themselves. Many of the zoo’s offspring are introduced to the wild, though; there are plans to release the newly hatched ostrich chicks in the Shai Hills Nature Reserve.
Feeding complete, it was time for lunch. Martin cooked waakye (rice and beans) while the resident ducks wandered far too close to a Ghanaian cooking pot for their safety. We discussed the merits of freshly pounded fufu over packet fufu – Martin prefers fresh, I would prefer to eat the warthogs’ grass – and then I wandered back home through the forest, leaving Martin and the animals to their post-lunch naps.