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.