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Author: Ian Singleton
Source: The Jakarta Post, Medan | Mon, 03/26/2012 8:04 AM
The Jakarta Post recently reported the death of a giraffe at Surabaya Zoo, found to have ingested 20 kg of plastic. This is extremely tragic, but of course by no means surprising in Indonesia’s zoos, given the appalling way they are managed.
As a former zoo keeper myself in the UK, what is clear to me is that the vast majority of zoos in Indonesia hardly pay any attention whatsoever to investing in their zoo and instead see them only as potential revenue generators.
A good example is the so-called Medan Zoo in North Sumatra. For many years this occupied just a few tree-shaded hectares within the city itself and despite its poor and insanitary conditions, a number of animals somehow managed to survive there for several years. Nevertheless, they were subjected to voluminous decibels of dangdut just outside their cage every weekend and public holidays, and a barrage of peanuts were thrown at them every day.
On public holidays, more than 20,000 visitors would visit and almost all would throw copious numbers of peanuts at the animals during the day. Not exactly a nutritious balanced diet.
In its wisdom, the Medan municipality eventually decided to move the zoo to a large area of open, mostly tree-less land on the edge of the city. It was then reported that around 60 percent of the animals died during or after being transferred to the new site, built hurriedly, poorly designed and with little thought to providing shelter from the sun or rain, or clean water supplies to any of the animals.
A few survivors did manage to hang on, but could be clearly seen hiding in the few shady areas, gasping due to the heat and dehydration. The standard of care was also extremely poor. A small clinic building had no drugs or equipment, and not even the tools to anesthetize animals properly. Food was inadequate, generally handed out in the mornings, and left there all day.
All in all, Medan is the only place I know of in the world that has built a new zoo even worse than the old one! What gets me most though, is that managing a zoo is not rocket science. Many animals will survive and even breed if simply given a safe and sheltered enclosure, clean drinking water, and adequate nutrition. But just how possible is it to improve facilities and diets when entrance fees are so disgracefully low?
I have heard many times how admission prices for zoos and other recreation sites are deliberately kept low so that everyone is able to benefit from them. Sure, but the old Medan Zoo cost about Rp 2,000 to enter 10 years ago and even the new one is just a little over Rp 5,000 (US 55 cent) today. With admission prices less than half the cost of a becak (pedicab) or a decent nasi bungkus (meal), I think they could easily be quadrupled and still everyone would be able to visit a few times each year. And that might even allow zoo managers to reinvest some of the takings on their assets, their facilities and their animals.
I am sure too, that given the incredible wealth of the Indonesian “elite” and how they love to have their names displayed in public places, that any zoo showing a genuine commitment to improving, by putting some of its own money back in, could quickly begin to tap the large numbers of rich potential philanthropists around these days, to sponsor their animals and new exhibits. But they would indeed have to prove they were serious before most private individuals or corporations even consider putting any money into them, or having their names associated.
Indonesia’s zoos also continue to be a drain on Indonesia’s incredibly rich wildlife. With only one or two notable exceptions, I would wager that almost all of their animals were born in the wild. This is in sharp contrast to western zoos, were with a few exceptions, most notably for conservation purposes, almost none are wild born these days.
If animals do breed in Indonesian zoos, they frequently die young, due to the poor nutrition they and their mothers receive and the insanitary and unsuitable conditions in which they are kept.
Zoos here, therefore, still tend to either buy their animals on the market (often illegally) or request them from the Forestry’s Ministry conservation department (PHKA), for example if they have been captured due to human wildlife conflicts or confiscated as illegal pets or in trade.
But why, in 2012, should this still need to be the case? Why aren’t Indonesia’s zoos breeding the animals themselves and exchanging them with other zoos, as do most zoos in the rest of the world? Is it because they’re too greedy to invest in their animals and keep them healthy enough to breed and rear their offspring to adulthood? Or is it just far too easy to replace them when they die?
At this point I must also mention the fact that there has been, since 1969, an Indonesian Zoo Association (PKBSI). But what does it do? It doesn’t even have a formal website, just a blogspot, with hardly any information on its goals and mission, or on Indonesia’s many zoos, as you might expect. What role does it play in encouraging Indonesia’s zoos to improve?
I once worked in Jersey Zoo (now Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust), one of the world’s best zoos; not best because it is bigger or more beautiful, or makes more money than others, but because it has a genuine mission to save endangered species. It was established in the late 1950s by well-known author Gerald Durrell with conservation as its primary function, and funds raised for many endangered species rescue projects all over the world.
Jersey Zoo has since had numerous major successes, among them saving the pink pigeon, echo parakeet and Mauritius kestrel, all down to just a tiny number of individuals (in some cases just three or four females and a few males) a few decades ago, but now numbering in their hundreds once again in the wild due to captive breeding and managed reintroduction programs.
Enough is enough I think. In 2012 we should be able to evaluate the role of zoos in Indonesia, to close down the bad ones and encourage the better ones to get even better. But this will never happen if their owners and managers see them only as a source of extra pocket money.
For the sake of the animals and the visiting public, start charging sensible entry fees and start reinvesting some of the revenue, then perhaps you will get even more support and encouragement from those that are able, and almost certainly willing to help. But only if you can first show you are serious about it!
Dr. Ian Singleton is the Director of Conservation, PanEco Foundation, and principal conservation advisor to Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari in Indonesia.
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