The President of Indonesia has dramatically stepped into the international row over conditions at the ‘world’s cruellest zoo’, following my story in the Daily Mail about the horrors there.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono called for ‘a solution to avoid more animal deaths,’ after learning of the outrage following details of scores dying uneccesary at the Surabaya Zoo and other creatures living in miserable, cramped and sometimes painful conditions.
During a top-level meeting with two important Ministers, the East Java Gorneror and the Lady Mayor of Surabaya, President Yudhoyono made it clear that now that he had been made aware of the conditions at Indonesia’s oldest zoo and the world’s concerns immediate action was needed.
He told the meeting that he had received many reports from the public about the poor conditions.
‘They reminded me that the deaths in Surabaya Zoo had become the focus of the international community and feared that such an issue would give outsiders the impression that we don’t care about our zoos,’ he said.
Turning to those at the meeting – East Java Governor Soekarwo, Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya, Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan and the Lady Mayor of Surabaya Tri Rismaharini – the President said: ‘Let’s find the best solution and when it has been formulated explain it to the public.
‘Of course, we will not forget the events that have occurred. There is always a way out or a solution.’
Hundreds of thousands of people around the world signed petitions demanding that the zoo either be closed down or the animals moved to other enclosures in the country in the wake of my revelations and those of other concerned animal rights groups – far too many to mention here.
Many other people have offered to donate money to help pay for the zoo to be rebuilt – but the Mayor objected to outside interference and insisted that the current structure should remain because the zoo, opened by Dutch colonialists in 1916, was part of Indonesia’s heritage in its current state.
But when I visited the zoo at the end of November it was clear that the conditions of nearly a century ago did not belong in a modern world – if they even belonged at the time the zoo opened.
More than 50 animals died there in the last three months of last year – and tragically more have followed this month.
I found a baby elephant shackled by three legs, one of which was rubbed raw by the chain, scores of pelicans crammed into a cage that made it difficuilt to lift their wings, grim concrete enclosures with no grass and not a keeper in sight.
This was because many had left the animals alone so they could head off to attend small shops they were running, but the Mayor has also admitted recently that several rare animals have been stolen by workers who have sold them to purchase cars or motor bikes.
In recent weeks it is known that three animals have died – a wildebeest, a mountain goat found with suspicious marks around its neck and a young African lion found hanging from cables in its cage.
As a first step in getting something done about the zoo’s deplorable conditions, the Indonesian government, at the behest of the President, now says it will officially hand full authority of the zoo to the Mayor who has been charged with ensuring substantial changes in its operation and treatment of animals.
‘This definitive licence will be given to the Mayor this week,’ Forestry Minister Zulkifli told the Jakarta Globe.
While the Mayor has been accused of being a stumbling block to improvements, she now accuses the previous caretaker team of doing little to stanch the spate of animal deaths. Not only that – she has continued to deny that my findings were accurate and even dared to insist, yet again, that photographs taken by my colleague Andrew Chant were a year old. The data on his camera card will show that they were all taken at the end of November – and I have hotel bills to prove that I was in Surabaya at the time. It’s a shame that the Mayor is playing the defensive game instead of just accepting that conditions at the zoo are shocking and that she should have done something about it a long time ago, rather than wait for the President to step in.
The former management team will now be replaced with new individuals who care for animals, said Mr Zulkifli.
‘They will oversee the maintenance of animal pens and their food, among other things. There will also be an audit in a partnership between the Mayor and Airlangga University on the issue of animal overpopulation.’
He told the Globe that if an examination found the zoo had more animals than it could adequately care for, the government would transfer some animals to other zoos and conservation facilities.
However, Governor Soekarwo admitted that improvements would take time.
‘This is no magic trick,’ he said. ‘It’s a long process. ‘But I hope the zoo’s new management will be able to provide a better environment for the animals.’
In a few days Sybelle Foxcroft of cee4life, a fighting Australian animal care organisation will be travelling to Surabaya to add to the pressure to get something done – and quickly. We wish her good fortune.
Since my last blog about the ‘World’s Cruellest Zoo’ emails have continued to arrive from concerned people around the world asking what can be done to improve conditions for the animals.
What is gratifying is that an Indonesian website, Jakarta Globe, has now taken up the cause with a large article this week.
The Jakarta Globe’s article acknowledges the difficulties in fighting red tape – as I have previously pointed out – but this is a further voice in the chorus begging, pleading, the local authorities to get something done.
As I’ve already pointed out, simply closing the zoo down isn’t going to help the animals because no other zoo will take them, amid fears that their lack of care might have led to them being diseased.
An emaciated tiger was rescued and moved to another location months ago, but there are, of course, many other animals who have had to be left behind.
A relevant passage from the Jakarta Globe reads as follows and I congratulate them for their follow-up:
“[The Surabaya Zoo case] has been going on for five years. Everybody knows about it, but nothing’s changing,” said Femke den Haas, the founder of Jakarta Animal Aid Network, a local nonprofit dedicated to animal conservation.
In 2010, after an overhaul by the Forestry Ministry, management of the zoo was assigned to the Surabaya City Administration, but active management only started in July 2013.
The city plans to improve the zoo over three years. It has allocated Rp 60 billion ($4.9 million) to the zoo’s management over the next five years, according to a report by Republika.
In response to the Daily Mail’s report, Tri Rismaharini, the mayor of Surabaya, told local media last year that the zoo was improving.
A team from the University of Airlangga last year audited the zoo’s finances and animal inventory. According to Amelia, an officer from the economy and development division of the Surabaya City Administration, their report is now complete.
“Currently, we’re just waiting to present it to the mayor,” Amelia said last Tuesday.
The city had allocated Rp 5 billion for the zoo improvements as of last August.
“[This] is a classic example of what thousands of people already know and what conservation organizations have tried to aid with over the last years,” said Sybelle Foxcroft, the director of Conservation Environmental Education 4 Life (Cee4life) in an email last Thursday.
Cee4life is one of the conservation organizations who has offered aid to the Surabaya Zoo.
The organization assisted in moving a malnourished female tiger called Melani from the Surabaya Zoo to Taman Safari in Bogor.
“Cee4life has been supporting the care of Melani in Taman Safari and she is so much better now than we she was inside Surabaya,” Foxcroft said.
Foxcroft also travelled to Surabaya to meet the mayor last year. The mayor was unavailable at the time, but Foxcroft left a letter with an offer to help.
In her reply to Foxcroft, the mayor thanked Foxcroft for her sympathy, but gave little to no comment about Foxcroft’s offer.
“The mayor has been offered an enormous amount of aid from animal welfare organizations around the world, including Cee4life. However, she has refused all aid,” Foxcroft said.
“It is clearly obvious that numerous animals are dying under horrendous conditions at the zoo, but the mayor continues to ignore it all and pretend that nothing is happening. It is a shocking thing for the world to see.”
The Indonesian Zoo and Aquarium Association, known as PKBSI, said the problems in Surabaya Zoo didn’t just stem from a lack of expertise, but also politics.
“[We] acknowledge what’s going on with the Surabaya Zoo. Our organization has attempted and achieved several changes in improving animal welfare at the zoo, as well as its infrastructure and human resources, but with the mayor of Surabaya’s lack of understanding in conservation or zoo management — and influenced by a private staff that used to work at the zoo — the Surabaya Zoo case became even more complicated,” said Susi Lawati, PKBSI’s secretary in an email last Friday.
PKBSI is a nonprofit organization appointed by the Forestry Ministry in zoo accreditation and monitoring.
The international response to my disclosure of the conditions at Indonesia’s Surabaya Zoo continues to grow and while I accept that there is a long way to go the fact that so many people care must surely bring positive results.
A locally-based animal care organisation, Jakarta Animal Aid Network (JAAN), has responded to one very caring citizen, Jan Pedley of the UK, pointing out that they have received countless complaints about the zoo over the years and since 2010 they have been asking the government to work with them to improve conditions.
However, says the animal aid network, the government has decided that it wants to work with an organisation set up by the zoo owners and ‘are not interested in improving welfare conditions for animals at all – their interest lies in profit.’ The government, says JAAN, has ‘entrusted the wrong people to control zoos.’
As an example of the continuing problems, the organisation points out that Indonesia is the last country in the world to allow travelling dolphin shows in which dolphins are transported around in containers in a bus before arriving at another town to put on a swimming and diving performance for the locals.
‘Dolphins belong in the wild and the travel shows are exposing them to extreme levels of cruelty,’ says the animal care group.
But back to the Surabaya Zoo, which has become the focus of animal lovers around the world following my article in the Daily Mail exposing the plight of the animals and birds there: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2529589/Worlds-cruellest-zoo-Shackled-elephants-starving-camels-150-pelicans-crammed-one-cage-death-toll-rises-daily.html
JAAN says that in the past week alone, reports and complaints about Surabaya Zoo, the Batam Animal Park and others – including a park where a juvenile orang-utan accidentally hanged herself – have inundated the organisation’s office.
All these problems in the zoos and animal parks ‘dubiously named conservation institutes’ could be solved if the Indonesian Association for Animal Parks was closed down and the Forestry Department was tasked with forming a new, neutral team to enforce strict animal welfare standards,’ says the animal group.
‘Most Indonesian animal parks do not fulfill even the very basic conditions necessary to care for and protect the wild creatures in their care, including providing shelter from extreme climates and weather, fresh drinking water and food, or even proper basic medical care,’ says JAAN.
The organisation adds that in 2011 the Indonesian Forestry Department developed a basic protocol for animal welfare, yet the guidelines have never been enforced and never will be as long as the current Animal Parks association is in charge.
However small but encouraging steps have been made. For example the Australian-based non-profit Cee4Life (Conservation & Environmental Education 4 Life) has been fighting hard against all odds to get improvements carried out at the Surabaya Zoo and is credited with helping to save the life of an emaciated Sumatran Tiger, which is on the list of critically-endangered animals. It was in such a poor state that the Minister of Forests, under a tsunami of voices from around the world, ordered the tiger to be taken to a human and ethical wildlife sancturay where it received immediate veterinary aid. Cee4Life says that if it had not been removed from the Surabaya Zoo, ‘there is no doubt it would be dead.’
There is also no doubt that officials who are responsible for the zoo remain on the defensive. If a management committee was set up six months ago – as I was informed, in the wake of my article, that it had been – why did I find so many distressing scenes when I visited last month? Why was that young elephant shackled by three legs with a weeping wound caused by one of the chains?
One person associated with the zoo has attempted to attack my story by asking just when I was there and questioning whether I really did speak to a former member of the management committee, who I had quoted in my article. But no matter how high the defences are, the pictures taken by my colleague Andrew Chant, who accompanied me on the zoo visit in November, tell the story of what is happening there.
One of the lame reasons put forward by the Mayor of Surabaya, Tri Rismaharini, for no improvements being made to the structure of the zoo (overlooking the plight of the animals) is that changes would destroy Dutch historical heritage – the zoo was built by Dutch colonialists in 1916. So the old cages and confining pens dating back to the days when animals were jammed into such enclosures remain.
If you want to read more on this issue, it can be seen here:
Let us hope that continued international pressure changes life for the better for the miserable animals at the zoo. I still remain confident that change will come.
Since my last blog a few days ago, the correspondence – emails and Tweets – have come pouring in to both myself and the Daily Mail from writers around the world who are concerned about the animals in the Surabaya Zoo, Indonesia, first raised in my story: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2529589/Worlds-cruellest-zoo-Shackled-elephants-starving-camels-150-pelicans-crammed-one-cage-death-toll-rises-daily.html?ico=home%5Eheadlines
If this mass of correspondence and vows to get something done about improving conditions at the zoo doesn’t work, then nothing will.
One writer, Jan Pedley from the UK, has pointed out to me that she has found that more than 30 petitions have been started up, with a total of possibly one million signatures, pleading for something to be done about the zoo.
Many of you have offered to donate funds but as I have mentioned earlier, it’s a question of who, or what organisation, can take on the task of setting up a Trust fund and ensuring the money goes directly into refurbishing the zoo and turning it into a feature that the Indonesians themselves can be proud of, particularly with their input.
It’s most important that those of us on the ‘outside’ ensure that improvements are spearheaded by the local people – and done so with some urgency. I’ve been told by an Indonesian correspondent that a committe was set up six months ago to put the zoo in order, but when I visited there recently, resulting in my article, it was obvious that urgent action was still required.
The fact that the young elephant I referred to was chained by three legs, one of which was cut by the chains and – as a vet here in Australia has told me, in danger of becoming seriously infected – demonstrates the urgency required. Six months after the formation of the committee I saw little that resulted in my leaving the zoo with a feeling that this was a fantastic place that had made much progress from former disastrous reports.
The Surabaya Mayor, one writer has told me, ‘needs to accept help from the organisations that are offering continuing help.’ The writer, Layla Newton, added: ‘Then people like myself can donate to these organisation to help them to save animals in this zoo. ‘
Concern has been expressed that the Mayor, Mrs Tri Rismaharini, ‘needs to realise that repairing a tiny cage is not going to do anything to help the animals in there.’ And it has been suggested by Ms Newton that ‘the organisations able to help need to go to her (the Mayor) and present to her how they can help…hopefully the Mayor will see that she cannot do this alone and that she needs specialised people to come in…’
Ms Newton’s letter typifies many that I have received.
Years ago, many Western zoos that are now considered among the finest in the world, also confined their animals in cement enclosures, but they have since been transformed into wonderful, natural habitats – with lots of space and greenery – for the animals and birds.
With the Mayor’s help the Surabaya Zoo can be turned into such a feature. It has already been pointed out to me by a lady living in Surabaya, P Laksmi, that local citizens are ‘making efforts about this issue’ and ‘soon we will have a better zoo and hopefully we can get the award, just like we won the award for our park.’ This is a reference to the award for the 2013 Asian Townscape Sector for the 10,000 square meter Bungkul Park, awarded by the United Nations, which the Mayor has described as a ‘symbol of beauty and equality.’
I agree that if Surabaya can do this for a park for the people, the city has the ability to concentrate on addressing the plight of the animals and transforming the zoo into an award-winning establishment to be equally proud of.
However, such a huge task needs, in my opinion, to be undertaken with outside help – the goodwill of the world. It cannot be done overnight, of course, but a good start would be to ensure that the animals that need veterinary attention (the elephant for example) receive it. An Indonesian vet has written to me admitting that he feels ill at ease about the condition of the animals but the problem has been money.
I know several vets who would be happy to contribute their time but they need to be able to cut through red tape.
I am continuing to make contact with organisations who may, or may not, be the right ones to start collating funds and working with the local people. Architects, builders, vets…such a team cannot be assembled overnight but I am confident it will be done because you all are behind it.
I will keep you updated.