There are few museums in the world with as wide a scope as the National Museum of Niger. It has displays covering art, history, dinosaurs, nuclear energy, craftwork and music as well as live animals, for it also is a zoo.
The cultural gem of the country, the 24-hectare museum survives on a budget that is just a fraction of those of its wealthy counterparts. Yet it charges a rock-bottom entrance fee — about 10 cents — so that even the most impoverished can walk in and see exceptional things, including wild animals.
“It’s Niger’s mirror, its social and cultural reflection,” said its director, Haladou Mamane, proudly ticking off its strengths in culture, history, archaeology, paleontology, not forgetting the zoo section, “part of a multidisciplinary tradition.”
“Here, every Nigerien, regardless of their background, can gain insights about the country,” Mamane said.
Before the pandemic, the museum had more than 100,000 visitors per year, many of them so-called talibe children. These are children who are unique to West Africa — their parents hand them to a type of Islamic school, where they are supposed to learn the Quran. But they typically spend their days begging in the dusty streets with a metal receptacle strung around their neck, and many find the museum a wonderful escape.
“I came from Yantala,” a rundown district in northwestern Niamey, “to come and see the animals, the monkey, the lions, the crocodiles,” said 12-year-old Ismael Mariama.
The museum, founded just before Niger gained independence from France in 1960, is planning a refurbishment and an expansion with the help of international donations. The museum promises that once the building work is complete, the 111 species in the zoo will enjoy improved living conditions.