At least five animals - including a buffalo, an impala and three Barbary sheep - were discovered starved to death when the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) inspected the Bloemfontein City Zoo last week.
"The surviving animals showed no energy at all, since they were very hungry. Some of the gemsbok were starting to show hips and ribs bones, while other animals ran towards the inspectors, without a doubt because of food need. When we picked up dry grass and held it out to the animals, they desperately tried to eat it.
"The impalas made a sound, literally like they were crying," said SPCA inspector Tebogo Maswanganye in a Facebook post with photos of the dead and neglected animals. "They could hardly walk. All they did was just stand with their mouths hanging."
The zoo was shut temporarily in December last year over permit violations regarding the housing of protected species. At the time, Mangaung municipality spokesperson Qondile Khedama guaranteed that the animals’ wellbeing and health would not be compromised, as municipal workers would remain on duty to take care of them.
The recent inspection showed the complete opposite, prompting the local SPCA to call for the zoo's permanent closure.
According to Khedama, no comment could be given on the zoo’s future before an urgent meeting with all stakeholders, including the SPCA, was concluded. The meeting is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.
Meanwhile, the SPCA will monitor the feeding of the animals at the zoo daily and take action when this is not done, Maswanganye says.
"We have exhausted all possible avenues to get the zoo to an acceptable welfare standard for its inhabitants. The welfare of the animals inside the zoo is compromised, to such an extent it cannot be reversed. We need all the support we can get to help close down the zoo."
The SPCA in the Eastern Cape has previously called for the closure of the East London Zoo. The Buffalo City Metro Municipality also faced changes of animal cruelty over welfare violations that resulted in the euthanasia of certain animals at the facility.
"As the SPCA, we can unfortunately not simply walk in and close the zoo. It is a legal process with many challenges that require the involvement of the Mangaung Management, who have proven that they are not in a position to care for the animals long term," the organisation said.
"We humbly ask the public, animal warriors and our supporters to please support us on this journey, as we do the best we can with what we have within the framework of the law."
Free State Department of Small Business Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs spokesperson Kgotso Tau stated previously that the zoo had been closed in December after an unscheduled inspection found various protected species - including reptiles, birds and predators - were being kept without permits.
The failure to have the permits in place violated the National Environmental Biodiversity Act, the Free State Nature Conservation Ordinance as well as Threatened or Protected Species (TOPS) regulations.
An ongoing petition launched by local broadcaster Radio Rosestad has backed the SPCA for the zoo's permanent closure. It has been signed by more than 18 000 people.
"The shocking state of the zoo is unacceptable," the petition states. "We as the Bloemfontein community call for the Municipal Manager to take action in the closing of the Bloemfontein Zoo due to lack of maintenance, management and care of the animals. The community pays taxes and therefore call for better use of these funds. The zoo is not an attraction, but rather a disappointment and a waste of funds. These animals are living in terrible conditions and this is not acceptable."