The northern parts of Syria, away from the demarcation lines and fighting, have recently seen attempts at urban planning, including industrial and tourist facilities. The first public park in Idlib was inaugurated Nov. 18, including a zoo, as part of a series of recreational projects across the city.
Youssef al-Sayyed, the director of the newly opened zoo, said that the park also includes an amusement park and a restaurant. "Although we brought a large number of animals, we decided to exhibit them in several steps in order to keep the residents in suspense," he said. The zoo is seeking a license from Turkey to add other animals from countries such as Ukraine. Currently, he said, the zoo includes "lions, tigers, monkeys, ostriches, and a large number of birds. They were brought from Iraq and Turkey, and at a later stage there will be Siberian tiger, deer, llama, timor, and giraffes.”
He told Al-Monitor that a team of veterinarians and nutritionists supervises the animals in accordance with international standards, and "all animals there are fully vaccinated and placed in the right and safe spaces. There is an isolation section, and artificial incubators, as well as trainers with long experience in dealing with wild animals.”
The zoo has been very popular, he said, although foot traffic will decrease as the winter approaches. "The entrance fee to the park is 10 liras per adult, and it is free for children under the age of seven, the children of martyrs, orphans, war-wounded and people with special needs," he said. "The entrance fee for students as part of the school field trip is five liras per student.”
"We try to gain the trust of these animals by feeding them with our hands," said Youssef al-Jisri, an animal trainer who came to Idlib after previous experience in Dubai and Lebanon. "They start to get used to the new place and the new trainer a week following their arrival. In general, the animals have the most aggressive behavior during mating season or when giving them food. That is why we avoid doing so when there are visitors at the zoo.”
Safety measures for visitors, he told Al-Monitor, include a fence at a safe distance, heavy-duty iron cages, surveillance cameras, and an emergency response team. "We also warn visitors constantly not to approach the cage of lions and tigers, despite the strong cage fencing. But these animals can attack through the bars, which would cause major harm. Of course, it is strictly prohibited to go into the cage.”
A number of recreational and entertainment projects are being opened in Idlib governorate, where refugee camps currently lack any entertainment options. Most recently, a women’s café was opened in the city of Idlib.
Mohamad Firas, a visitor to the park, told Al-Monitor, “It is a beautiful and important idea to the area, which lacks similar projects for our children. It has been years that we could not take our children out due to the war, bombings and displacement. These projects would help the advancement of the area. … No matter the destruction, bombing and tragedy, we still have hope." But the entry fee of 10 Turkish lira is expensive, he said, "and many residents cannot even make ends meet, which means that these projects are limited to a particular segment of the population. But it is something new and worth trying, especially that it is free for children.”
Ahmed Saado, an independent journalist from Idlib, told Al-Monitor, “Despite the many fears that Idlib residents live in, especially of the continuous bombing and violations of the ceasefire agreement, such recreational projects would have a positive impact and restore hope for brighter days among the people, especially the children."