Nightmare Indonesia zoo giraffe death

2012-03-13 21:09

Surabaya - The tigers are emaciated and the 180 pelicans packed so tightly they cannot unfurl their wings without hitting a neighbour. Last week, a giraffe died with a beachball-sized wad of plastic food wrappers in its belly.

That death has focused new attention on the scandalous conditions at Indonesia's largest zoo. Set up nearly a century ago in one the most biologically diverse corners of the planet, it once boasted the most impressive collection in Southeast Asia.

But today the Surabaya Zoo is a nightmare, plagued by uncontrolled breeding, a lack of funding for general animal welfare and even persistent suspicions that members of its own staff are involved in illegal wildlife trafficking.

The rarest species, including Komodo dragons and critically endangered orangutans, sit in dank, unsanitary cages, filling up on peanuts tossed over the fence by giggling visitors.

"This is extremely tragic, but of course by no means surprising in Indonesia's zoos, given the appalling way they are managed on the whole," said Ian Singleton, a former zoo keeper who now runs an orangutan conservation program on Sumatra island.

The zoo came under heavy fire two years ago following reports that 25 of its 4 000 animals were dying every month, almost all of them prematurely. They included an African lion, a Sumatran tiger and several crocodiles.

The government appointed an experienced zoo keeper, Tony Sumampouw, to clean up the operation and he struggled, with some success, to bring the mortality rate down to about 15 per month.

But following last week's death of the 30-year-old giraffe "Kliwon" - who had for years been eating litter and trash thrown into its pen and was found with a 18kg ball of plastic in its stomach - Sumampouw said he's all but given up.

Nothing short of a "total renovation" is needed, he said.

No family planning

"We need to either think about privatising or transferring out some of the animals."

With entrance fees of less than $2, critics say there's not enough money to care for the animals, much less invest in improving the zoo's facilities.

One of the biggest problems is overcrowding.

Whereas most zoos limit the number of animals born in captivity - taking into consideration how many can reasonably be cared for or exchanged with other zoos - the notion of "family planning" has not yet taken off here.

Contraceptives are expensive and there are not adequate facilities to separate males and females. As result, species at the Surabaya zoo are bred to excess.

The 180 pelicans are kept in a pen the size of a volleyball court. Nearby, 16 tigers  12 Sumatran and four Bengalese - are kept in a prison-like row of concrete cages.

One white tiger, whose parents were donated by the Indian government nearly 20 years ago, is now covered by skin lesions.

Let out so rarely, she suffers from back complications that make it difficult to just stand up, let alone walk, zoo curator Sri Pentawati said.

Too many tigers

"There are too many tigers," she lamented. "We have a hard time rotating them out to get all the exercise they need."

Rahmat Shah - a well known big-game hunter with a museum in the city of Medan that is filled with rhino, big cats and other animals he's shot around the world - currently heads Indonesia's National Zoo Association. He says none of the zoos run by the government are in good condition, but that Surabaya is especially troubled, due to a bitter internal rift.

Two men who each claimed to be the zoo's chief were fired several years ago, but their followers among the staff have continued the feud.

Police believe the poisoning death of a Javan warthog in January, found with traces of cyanide in its stomach, was linked to that conflict.

"One side is always trying to discredit the other," said Ludvie Achmad, head of a local conservation agency.

Sumampouw acknowledged he has had little success in controlling the undisciplined staff.

He said he believes some animals, including three young Komodos that disappeared last year, were stolen by caretakers and sold into the exotic pet trade.

Zookeepers also have been accused of taking meat meant for the tigers and selling it in the local market.

  • Jo - 2012-03-13 21:38

    Animals do not belong in zoos. Period.

      arne.verhoef - 2012-03-13 22:29

      Certain zoos actually have well founded conservation importance. What have you recently done for pandas?

      Garth - 2012-03-14 07:09

      Agreed Jo. Zoos are a constant reminder of man's inhumanity to other species on this planet. They are archaic institutions and should be relegated to the past. Incarcerating animals for the gratification of humans is sick. In this modern world there are far more natural ways of ensuring the survival of species threatened by man and his actions. Agreed that zoos have played an important part in the history in conservation, but that is where they should be relegated - to history. @arne - what have YOU done recently for pandas? Right back at ya! Pandas are far better conserved in their natural habitat then preserved in fish bowls.

      arne.verhoef - 2012-03-14 17:05

      Garth, I am not the one claiming that zoos are bad. Natural habitat? Do you know how little 'natural habitat' there is left for certain animals? There are certain animals far below their minimum viable population, who would, as you so eloquently say, be relegated to history without any intensive management. Clearly you two are speaking out of your arses, with the only opinion you have, obtained from extremist animal activists, without any zoological knowledge to speak of.

  • Kathryn - 2012-03-14 01:15

    This is disgusting. Where are the animal rights organisations in all of this? These animals need to be rehoused in other well kept zoos and this place shut down, immediately!! Again the poor animals suffer....through no fault of their own. This truly breaks my heart :((((((((((((

  • Vilia - 2012-03-14 02:53

    Get active! Write to the Indonesian govt & also their representative in you r local country & ask what they are doing to assist the animals. Volunteer your time to an animal related cause if you can't get to this zoo. Make some noise people!

      Garth - 2012-03-14 07:14

  • LouiseandRoger Higham - 2012-03-14 07:27

    We've been to indonesia and they way they treat any animal is a disgrace, absolutely no feeling.

  • LouiseandRoger Higham - 2012-03-14 07:27

    We've been to indonesia and they way they treat any animal is a disgrace, absolutely no feeling.

  • swavka - 2012-03-14 07:59

    Yip let them all loss in the wild, and within a decade they will be extinct, because people care less about animals than they do about money. It's all greed - let someone come along a whisper a few words of how much money they get for so and so, and the next thing you know there aren't anymore left. It has nothing to do with no being able to find a job - it has more to do with why should i work so hard for a few measly dollars when i can go out and kill a few animals and earn enough to last a year, but why stop there if i do it once a week my tribe/people will think i am king - it all comes down to greed & money which equals power.

  • angeladebra - 2012-03-14 09:18


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