PANAMA CITY – At Panama’s principal zoo the exotic colors of tropical birds are lost in the dark of old, improvised cages, while lush vegetation adorns paths with no wildlife in sight.
Summit Municipal Park is a 250-hectare (617-acre) oasis that has largely been neglected by Panama City, which, absorbed in its financial economy, for years seemed to have forgotten the lush tropical forest surrounding it and the innumerable tourism possibilities it offers at just 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of the urban area in the leafy Panama Canal basin.
Now, however, the launch of an ambitious project of entertainment, education and environmental conservation promises to make it an attraction no one will want to miss.
The master plan, which took a year to design and was presented to the Panama City government last October, will take between five and seven years plus an estimated $37 million to complete, park director Edgar Arauz told EFE.
Start with the most urgent aspect, the plan’s first stage will include laying out a path dubbed “The Living Basin of the Canal,” a walkway that will exhibit endemic Central American vegetation and will be home to most of the 300 animal species currently locked up in the park’s oldest, most run-down cages.
The wildcats, ocelots, otters and capuchin monkeys are sheltered in “enclosures that have been there a long time and lack even the minimum required living conditions,” Arauz said.
But now they will have a place on that path and furthermore, like all the park’s animals, will benefit from other elements of the plan’s first stage: the veterinary clinic and the nutrition center.
The walkway, a natural haunt of toucans and other colorful avian species, will be the first step visitors take before reaching the area that has been most carefully preserved in recent years: the home of the tapir, “Jaguar World” and the cage of the harpy eagle known as Panama, the star of the park and a national symbol.
These environments have had significant renovation over the past 20 years. The harpy eagle looks down on an educational center from the enormous cage where it lives, while the jaguar has a special exhibition area that provides children with an interactive learning experience.
But aside from these spaces, visiting the park can be fairly dull, despite having a children’s playground and a campsite.
Now it even misses the legendary lizard Juancho, whose enclosure remains empty following its death from natural causes several years ago.
So the current city government of Mayor Jose Isabel Blandon hopes to collect the $9 million needed to launch the first stage of the plan that includes the administration building and the entrance.
The master plan calls for the park to be developed in four stages, while at the same time preserving its history, which began in 1923 as an experimental farm for growing foreign species of vegetation under the administration of the old US Panama Canal Company.
The new makeover plan was worked up by the Colombian consultancy AFH Design, with the collaboration of that country’s landscape designer Diana Wiesner.