One of the shocking scenes captured by my colleague Andrew Chant at the Surabaya Zoo, Indonesia

One of the shocking scenes captured by my colleague Andrew Chant at the Surabaya Zoo, Indonesia

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.

Animal politics

“[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.



World’s Cruellest Zoo – Latest

On 05/01/2014, in Animals, News, by admin
Concrete and Wire - Nothing Much Has Changed at Surabaya Zoo Since it was Built in 1916. Picture by Andrew Chant

Concrete and Wire – Nothing Much Has Changed at Surabaya Zoo Since it was Built in 1916. Picture by Andrew Chant

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:
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.

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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:
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.

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The World’s Cruellest Zoo

On 29/12/2013, in Animals, News, by admin
One of the shocking scenes captured by my colleague Andrew Chant at the Surabaya Zoo, Indonesia

One of the shocking scenes captured by my colleague Andrew Chant at the Surabaya Zoo, Indonesia

I am touched and in awe of the incredible response to my story headlined the world’s cruellest zoo, published last week in the Daily Mail.
Here’s the link:
Those who have written to me personally and who have posted literally hundreds of shocked comments on the MailOnLine website have asked what can be done. Petitions have been started to close the zoo down and requests have been made as to where donations can be sent. I have spent the past days trying to find answers to all the questions that ask how the poor animals at the Surabaya Zoo in Indonesia can be given a better life.
I am working very hard on this, while being aware that other attempts to get the zoo closed or drastically improved, have failed due to bickering among various officials who run the establishment.
The immediate problems are these:
There are no other zoos in Indonesia that have shown a willingness to take the animals, claiming that they might be carrying diseases which would be passed on to other animals.
The zoo simply cannot be closed down because what would happen to the animals? This problem, of course, is linked to the one above.
Donations are always welcomed by any organisation or establishment, and while people from around the world have shown their willingness to give money to turn the zoo into a wonderful environment for the animals, to whom should the money go? It obviously cannot go directly to the zoo – rather, it needs to go to a responsible animal-caring organisation that will be able to send in a team, work with the zoo on what is needed to be done, and then spend the money doing it, turning the place from a hell hole into a Garden of Eden.
This is an area I’m looking into but if anyone has any better ideas or can come up with a practical solution, please get in touch.
Victoria Robinson has created a petition which you might care to sign as every voice of protest about the conditions will go towards getting something done.
Her petition is here:
Sybelle Foxcroft, Director of Cee4life has also got up a petition, which can be seen here:
Cee4Life has also created a Facebook page for the campaign here:
So you can see that efforts are being made to get something done. We just need to find out how.
I will keep you informed.



As a journalist on the road and on the run I’ve often been asked what computer I use. My answer: I don’t.
Well, let me correct that to some extent. Except on rare occasions I leave my reasonably lightweight MacBook Air (original version) at home and set off on the next assignment with just a 16gig iPad mini, a wireless ‘dongle’, a bluetooth keyboard, my excellent Fuji X10 and a card reader (although I have a cable with which I can plug the camera straight into the iPad mini).
How times have changed. Working as a foreign correspondent with a background in photography (admittedly way back in my late teens) I used to set out in the 1980s, 1990s and the early part of the new millennium weighed down with equipment – a Macbook Pro, a Canon DSLR, two zoom lenses, a flash and a back-up point-and-shoot. While that equipment didn’t exactly weigh a ton, when compared to what I carry now it certainly seemed like overkill.
I can slip all of the equipment pictured above into a small bag not much wider than the mini and with just a little more depth than the Fuji camera. But how do I make such seemingly limited equipment work for me when demands are upon me in these days of internet-speed news to file stories and pictures at the drop of a hat?
Here’s a make-believe scenario on how it all works….
I’m walking beside Sydney harbour and a man falls off the jetty. He’s splashing about but people are already jumping in to help him (thankfully, because I’m a useless swimmer, but if it was just him and me, then I’d forget the story and try to help the man). OK, he’s being rescued. Out comes the Fuji. Its zoom isn’t incredible but certainly good enough for this job. My back-up Panasonic point and shoot has an 18X zoom, so I could have used that for close ups if really needed. But with the Fuji in hand I fire away. I take sequential shots, covering the incident right up to the time the man is driven off to hospital for a check up.
I dash into a nearby cafe, order a coffee (must order *something*), activate the wi-fi dongle (the cafe might have wi-fi but there’s no time to ask for passwords and then suffer what might be a very slow connection) and get down to work. I open up Gmail and send a quick note to the paper alerting them to the fact that very soon my story and pictures of the rescue will be arriving. Then I download a selection of pictures with the card reader attached to the iPad by a camera cable, edit them with an excellent Lighroom-like app called Laminar Pro (crop, sharpen, resize), open up GMail and attach them to a brief message, three at a time to overcome GMail’s restrictions on size.
With the pictures out of the way, I then open up a writing app called Byword, which gives me a word count. As this is my story, with names and descriptions of the event in my notebook, I don’t need any outside reference material. I type the story using my bluetooth keyboard, then copy and paste it into GMail. Ping! Gone. Story and pictures in the office in less than half an hour.
But what if I had needed to call on extra information, such as, for example, whether the rescued man – whose name I had – was someone well known? I would need to refer to his background while writing. But flicking backwards and forwards from the writing page to a reference page on the iPad would be time-consuming and frustrating. Enter Side by Side, an app that allows me to split the screen so that I can write on one side and draw on reference material on the other.
Now, I could do all of the above with my MacBook Air and any other digital camera under the sun. But why would I need to lug the laptop around when, as the above example shows, I can do the job with my teeny-weeny equipment? So far I haven’t come across any major barriers to using the iPad mini on assignments and I’m particularly thankful for the 10-hour battery life and the much longer life of the bluetooth keyboard. My wi-fi dongle is good for about four hours but I hope I’m never going to need it for that long in one session before a recharge.
Yes, times have changed. I try to not only keep up with the Joneses but to stay one step ahead. That is until I sit on a train and see a teenage girl sending messages on her iPhone tapping away with her thumbs and not making any mistakes. I sit there dumbfounded. I’m no match for her. Thank heaven she’s not a journalist….