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.

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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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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.