photo: Laura Bijnsdorp

PHILIPSBURG – The Sint Maarten Zoo board sent off a few of their last residents, eleven macaws and nine cotton-top tamarin monkeys, to Curaçao. A team of five experts connected to the Parke Tropikal Curaçao Zoo made sure the twenty animals were transferred safely on Saturday.

Many of the board members of the St. Maarten Zoological & Botanical Garden Foundation had suffered their own losses during the storm. Board member Fons O’Connor, official zoo veterinarian Jovan Halley and volunteer Melanie Choisy took lead in dealing with the aftermath of hurricane Irma.

Damage at the zoo. Photo: Laura Bijnsdorp

Damage due to the hurricane
A few days after the storm Choisy was asked to assess the situation at the zoo. “You didn’t know where to look. Everything was damaged; all enclosures, the shop, and other structures.” Choisy says.

The animals were sheltered in various safe areas on the property, including a concrete shelter. Unfortunately, three died during the storm, the savanna monitor by injury, a green parrot and duckling due to stress.

Destruction at the hand of vandals
During the week after Irma, the zoo’s shop, toolshed, car, zoo-managers apartment and food-storage were looted. The team did their best to find fosters for the animals as soon as possible. Choisy: “One day we arrived and saw that the Toucan was out of his cage, someone must’ve opened the door, as it was not damaged before. Other animals including a few vervets were let out as well.”

Cotton-top tamarin. Photo: Laura Bijnsdorp

The cotton-top tamarins were a priority due to their endangered status. Choisy: “They are really cute, so we knew they could be targeted.” A VKS officer took in the tiny monkeys. A day before the zoos snakes could be transferred; five of the snakes were stolen.

Budget Issues
Before 2014, the zoo functioned on admission fees, donations and fundraisers, having to raise around 6500 dollar a month for feed, utilities, salaries and upkeep. Without any regular subsidies, this was already a difficult feat to manage.

In 2014, hurricane Gonzalo damaged the zoo greatly. As an answer to the budgetary issues the zoo’s management was leased out to businessman Bryce Gobert, who became the zoo manager. He envisioned transforming the zoo into a theme park with animals, playgrounds, kids pool, restaurant and more.

After hurricane Irma, Gobert has not returned to the zoo, still owing the Zoological & Botanical Garden Foundation, several months of payments.

A park instead
At the moment the team’s priority is to clean up the zoos property. Once this is done the board will have to decide what lies in the future for the Sint Maarten Zoo. Choisy, does not see the zoo reopening due to the budget that would be needed to rebuild and maintain the zoo.

“It would be nice to use the premises as a park instead. We have very few open areas on Sint Maarten where persons can enjoy themselves”, Choisy concludes.