Zoo guards decry staff shortage, crime

–but manager says complement enough

Security guards at the Zoological Park and the Botanical Gardens recently decried their working conditions and said that they work under “severe pressure” because there is a shortage of staff.

But General Manager of the National Parks Commission (NPC) Yolanda Vasconcellos says there is no shortage of security guards as management is committed securing the Zoo and Gardens.

There have been two cases of break and enter and larceny at the Zoological Park/Botanical Gardens so far this year as a result of the shortage of guards to secure the compound, a guard reported.

The first incident, the guard said, occurred in January at the Nature School which is located in the Zoological Park. One or more perpetrators, Harry [not his real name] said, broke into the building and carted off several pieces of equipment including a voltage regulator and a pair of binoculars.

Several weeks later, in early February, the cafeteria located at the entrance of the Zoo was broken into and a small sum of cash and a quantity of stock were stolen. The perpetrator(s), according to the guard, forced their way in through a window and escaped with approximately $10,000 and more than $20,000 in bottled beverages and other items.

The guard further reported that both incidents occurred during the 10 pm to 6 am shift. The guards who were on duty during those shifts, he said, have since been informed that they will have to pay for the lost items.

“I am not sure whether they [management] start deducting the money from these two guards’ salaries but I know that they told them that they were responsible for repaying the cost of the missing items stolen in both break-ins. This is not fair,” he said.

Harry said it is “ridiculous” and “more than unfair” for management to expect two security guards to secure the entire compound. He said that guards are not armed and a large area of the compound is without lights.

“We don’t even have a baton or anything to arm ourselves with,” Harry stated.

He also explained that there is a breach in the rear fence of the Botanical Gardens. The “hole in the fence,” according to Harry, has been there several weeks now and despite repeated reports management has been slow to get it fixed.

“Junkies does come through that hole in the night and roam this place. We don’t feel safe in here at all, and most time we don’t even see the junkies because they know where to go to hide from us,” he explained. These and other issues have been raised at several meetings, he said, and promises are continuously made to address them. However, to date security guards continue to work under the same conditions.

Another guard, who requested anonymity, said that when guards are stationed at the entrance of the zoo they stand under the benab there. “When it rain you don’t want to be there,” the man said. “The rain does be beating in on you and you does got to take soak skin and all kinda things.”

He further said that there is a shortage of staff and the small number of guards currently working at the location is put under “severe pressure” to secure the expansive compound. This has been brought to the attention of management, the guard said, but management has still not hired additional staff.

Meanwhile, Vasconcellos told Stabroek News yesterday that some of the security guards are “choosing to be misinformed.” The two incidents were not cases of break-ins, she said.

Vasconcellos explained that on both occasions guards were on duty when items went missing from the two locations. The General Manager could not say during which shift the items were discovered missing but admitted that the guards have been reprimanded for the lapse in their performance. While one of the two was taken over by the police, she reported, no significant losses were suffered. The NPC, she insisted, employs enough guards to secure the various locations for which it is responsible. The Zoo and the Botanical Gardens, according to her, are treated as two separate entities and each have security personnel assigned to various locations in the compounds.

“I don’t know that we are short of guards,” Vasconcellos said. Guard posts were designated with guidance from the Guyana Police Force several years ago, she said. During the hours when the Botanical Gardens is open to the public, she explained, there is a guard at the front gate, another at the nursery area and third who is assigned patrol duty.

Vasconcellos further noted that in the afternoon visitors are asked to leave the Gardens before dark. However, the guards are often challenged by visitors who insist that they have a right to stay in the compound. The NPC, she said, does everything it can to ensure that the Zoo and Botanical Gardens are well secured and that visitors can enjoy some level of safety.

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