Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi said on Tuesday that a contract recently awarded to a military company to overhaul and upgrade Cairo’s 132-year-old zoo must restore its historical value as one of the world’s oldest.
The presidency said the restoration work in the zoo, formally known as the Giza Zoo, should also be based on environmental foundations and protect its historical buildings and botanical diversity.
Mr El Sisi was speaking during a meeting with Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly, the finance, agriculture and military production ministers, and the general in charge of the army’s engineering arm.
The president’s decision to overhaul the world’s third oldest zoo, and Africa’s first, contrasts with him recently saying he had rejected proposals to restore and upgrade the Giza Zoo and would rather build new zoological gardens.
Mr El Sisi had then said that the Giza Zoo was an example of the country’s ills.
"You want to know what has become Egypt? Go to the zoo to see the extent of negligence and shortcomings," he said last October.
It is not clear why the president had a change of heart on the zoo, which is within sight of the Nile, not far from the heart of Cairo. It has for decades been a main attraction for Egyptians across the country.
“The President has given instructions during the meeting to carry out the project to upgrade the Giza Zoo in a manner that conforms with its international counterparts,” Mr El Sisi's office said.
News of the contract to overhaul the zoo broke late last month during a popular night-time TV talk show.
The contract includes the upgrading of the nearby Al Orman botanical gardens, another major Cairo attraction.
Maged El Serty, chief executive of the National Military Production Company for Projects, Engineering Consultations and General Supplies, said his business was due to begin work on the two sites this month.
The contract, with an undisclosed value, runs for 18 months.
The zoo and gardens had been run by the Agriculture Ministry for more than a century.
But their management will now be transferred to the Ministry of Military Production, showing the military's increasing responsibilities to the economy.
Mr El Sisi led the military before he was first elected in 2014.
The zoo first opened to visitors in 1891 and maintained its position as a top attraction in the Arab world until the 1950s, when a period of decline began.
It was later removed from the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums because it failed to pay its membership fees and meet the required standards in inspections.