Zoo’s ‘intolerable cruelty’

2009-07-23 00:00

CHARLES the chimpanzee, of the Natal Zoological Gardens and Lion Park at Umlaas Road, probably suffered chronic pain from his four broken canine teeth. Another chimp, Jessica, was “emaciated” — both animals had no access to water. Billy, who features in television advertisements, was kept in isolation in a cage from where he was unable to see another living being.

Jessica and Charles were removed to Chimpanzee Eden in Mpumulanga.

These are some of the findings of “intolerable” living conditions and animal cruelty made by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife staff when they conducted an inspection of the Natal Zoological Gardens and Lion Park at Umlaas Road in November 2008, according to papers that were put before Judge Ron McLaren in the high court in Pietermaritzburg yesterday.

Other criticisms concern “severe overcrowding” of 67 lions kept at that time in “ad hoc” and damp enclosures designed from disused shipping containers, and the chaining of four Asian elephants for 16 hours between 4 pm and 7 am without access to water, although they were given a bale of hay to eat.

The EKZNW executive director for biodiversity conservation, Bhekisisa Khoza, detailed these and other findings in response to an application by Brian Boswell for an interdict against EKZNW pending an appeal. Boswell owns the Natal Zoological Gardens, Natal Lion Park and Brian Boswell Circus.

Khoza said that in fairness to Boswell, the conditions of some of the animals had improved slightly when another inspection was held last month, but it was still far from being acceptable.

Although EKZNW found a Hamadryas baboon and her baby in one of the chimp cages in June, the other primates all had access to outside enclosures and were no longer locked in cages.

The application brought yesterday by Boswell is for an interdict to stop EKNZW and its officials from enforcing recent conditions it has laid down in permits and licences, which Boswell maintains are “unenforceable by virtue of the fact that they are unreasonable, irrational and/or unlawful”.

The application hearing was postponed until August 7.

Boswell alleges that officials of EKZNW, and in particular Dr Jean Harris, general manager for conservation planning, is “biased” and that she is misusing her management position in an attempt to close down his businesses.

“Third respondent [Harris] is on record as indicating that through internal policies the first respondent [EKZNW] would ensure phasing out of any wild animals [including primates] in captivity for use in the entertainment industry as a circus, as well as for use in advertisements and the movie industry.”

He said Harris had said she will phase out the keeping of wild animals in captivity unless approved under “very strict conditions”.

Boswell said he and his businesses have vested rights and legitimate expectations given that their permits and licences have been issued for more than 20 years. He complains that the financial implications of increasing the sizes of “at least 30” enclosures would be “astronomical”. He says that the requirement to upgrade the enclosures pending the construction of new ones and the situation becomes “unreasonable and irrational.

Khoza said all the EKZNW officials acted within their mandate and rejected any suggestion that they acted maliciously or vindictively. He said EKZNW’s actions were governed by concern for the welfare of wildlife and the animals under Boswell’s control.

Khoza said EKZNW has received many complaints from the public as well as its own staff members about the “frankly intolerable” conditions of the animals at Boswell’s facilities.

In the past, EKZNW has not imposed significant conditions, but dealt with Boswell in correspondence or laid criminal charges in serious cases.

But he said, “what might have been acceptable in the 1980s is certainly not acceptable in the 21st century”, and Boswell has shown reluctance to improve the condition of his animals.

Findings of alleged maltreatment of animals at Natal Zoological Gardens and Lion Park last November were

• Chimpanzee Charles’s four canine teeth were broken off as a result of the application of blunt force such as a side cutter. A vet said it could have been accidental but would have caused chronic pain.

• Canines of male performing chimpanzees are often removed to prevent injury to their handler or the public, but should be surgically removed.

• Charles and Jessica were both kept separately in small night cages behind the main chimpanzee enclosure. They had no access to water, and no view of the outside world.

• A video clip showed the chimps drinking water from a can “as if not knowing when they would get water again”.

• Jessica was in an “emaciated” state.

• Chimps’ cages were 1,5 m wide and appeared less than two metres deep.

• Billy, the “advertisement” chimp, was kept in isolation to prevent him socialising with his species to make him more pliable and easier to train. He couldn’t see another living being.

• Primates are highly sociable and keeping them in isolation is “inhumane and cruel”.

• 67 lions were overcrowded.

• They were rotated between the lion enclosure and concrete cages, the floors of which were wet and covered in urine. This system was allegedly described as a “timeshare” system. The cages were even used during the day because there were too many lions.

• International norms require lions have raised areas as lookouts where they can escape muddy conditions underfoot.

• Four cheetahs were in an enclosure five metres by 17 metres, which was bare save for one log.

• Two cheetah were in cages on the patio of a house on the zoo premises.

• Of the 10 elephants — six African and four Asian — the four Asian elephants were seen chained by their feet at night without access to water, but were given a bale of hay.

• A small elephant was found alone and isolated at night. He was allegedly held like that for 16 hours a day.

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