Members of the public are being invited to take advantage of the multi-faceted services being offered at the Hope Zoo as part of the upgrading and refurbishing work now underway. Curator of the zoo, Orlando Robinson, tells JIS News that these services include guided school tours, and a petting zoo “where you can have an interactive experience with the animals”. “We have a new feature, which is the budgie feeding experience where you pay a small fee and you can go in and hand feed some birds,” he informs. Mr. Robinson further notes that a travelling petting zoo is offered, where persons can opt to bring the zoo experience to their doorsteps. They can also use the facility to host functions. He tells JIS News that an initiative is also underway to develop a concentrated programme for tours, and to work with the Ministry of Education to subsidise rates for school groups. “It is Jamaica’s national zoo and we want you to realize that we are all a part of building it. We want you to come out and support us whether it is in cash or kind, just come in and visit with your family, enjoy the space. It’s here for us to enjoy so please come out and support our services, enjoy the space and help us to rebuild Hope Zoo,” Mr Robinson says. Administrative Manager, Hope Zoo, Karen Gandretti, explains that guided tours have to be pre-booked, and also, if persons are interested, parties can be held on the property. “If you would like to have your birthday party at the property, you can reserve the various gazebos for that purpose or even the lawn (area). Some persons want a big outdoor party so they have a bounce about, trampolines, slides and all of those things, all of that can be done here as well,” Miss Gandretti says. The Hope Zoo Preservation Foundation, an affiliate of corporate entity, Guardsman Group, is partnering with the Government and other public and private stakeholders, to help bring the 60-acre property, which opened in 1961, back to the glory days. “In Kingston now, you don’t have a lot of green areas outside of Hope Gardens and Emancipation Park, and so there is this great need for our children and future generations to have somewhere where they can go and relax and be in touch with nature, not just with plants but with animals, whether they are from Jamaica or from other parts of the world,” says Operation Manager, Hope Zoo Preservation Foundation, Rovein Richards. So far, renovation is being done on buildings, new gazebos have been built, exhibit areas have been repaired and spruced-up with fresh coats of paints, walkways have been repaved, and landscaping in ongoing. Also, they are seeking to bring back some key animals as lions, zebras and camels. There are already several budgies, macaws and other exotic birds at the zoo and a donation of donkeys was made earlier this year. The latter will form part of a domestic animal exhibit of goats, rabbits and more to teach children how to take care of and appreciate them. There are plans to put in new administration block, reception area, offices, pet store, gift shop, restaurants, audio-visual room, and provided more exotic animals. Mr. Robinson informs that the operators took the decision to open the facility to the public, even while the improvement work is underway. “Some might say it would have been good to just close and reopen with a big bang. We felt that we would have a great impact nonetheless because its buzzing; word of mouth is spreading and people are coming and saying yes, we are improving….I was here last week and last month, and the following month, something else has happened…..so it has worked for us and we didn’t want to close the facility and stop people from coming,” Mr. Robinson says. He tells JIS News that a key element in the redevelopment project is to protect the welfare of the animals. “We had to move away from the concrete and the bars and try to soften them with plants and focus on the whole aspect of landscaping so that they simulate a real life experience for the animals,” Mr. Richards states. “A person will come and they will see an animal and there is so much that they will be able to learn about it and how to appreciate and respect them when they see them in the wild, rather than just abuse them and be afraid,” he adds. Ms. Gandretti, tells JIS News that the operators of the zoo want patrons to be able to appreciate and enjoy what is on offer, and help to preserve its offerings. “We don’t encourage playing of football and all of those ball type games, because it can disturb the animals. Another thing is we prefer if persons don’t throw stones at the crocodiles,” Miss Gandretti says. Hope Zoo is open from Mondays to Sundays from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and from 10:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on public holidays. Persons can call the offices at 927-2888 to find out about entrance fees or to book the property for parties, tours or other events.