January 26th 2014
The infamous Surabaya Zoo has hit a new low point, via the hanging death of a juvenile male lion with a steel cable. But this act may have finally forced the Indonesian authorities to act.
The body of the lion was discovered at the zoo on the morning of January 7th, suspended in its bleak concrete cell. Zoo spokesman Agus Supangkat reported that the 18 month old lion, named Michael, was found hanged with a steel cable used by zoo-keepers to open and close the door to the enclosure. How exactly this happened has not yet been determined.
For those of you who haven't heard of this place, it first shot to internet infamy a few years ago, when the Jakarta Post coined the phrase "Zoo of Death" in an article about a deceased giraffe, which was found to have a 40 pound ball of plastic in its stomach. The giraffe had been living off candy bars thrown into the enclosure by visitors, most of which still had the wrappers attached. The story was shocking and the name stuck - particularly as Surabaya Zoo kept up the work of killing the wild animals it was meant to protect. Approximately 25 animals per month died or went missing at the zoo.
But the abuse goes back further than this. The East Java Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) had previously conducted an investigation in August 2010, which found that negligent keepers, corruption, and filthy conditions were to blame for most of the animal deaths. It is alleged that zookeepers were stealing meat which they sold to the black market. Animals were also allegedly being stolen by the zookeepers and sold – dead or alive.
The story of Melani
The zoo shot to stratospheric, "Ted-Bundy-like" infamy in 2012/13, when the story of Melani emerged. Melani, a 15 year old critically endangered Sumatran tiger, had been fed chemically tainted meat for several years, destroying her digestive system and causing her weight to drop to 44 kilograms — half the weight of a healthy tiger. Melani became the poster animal for the cause – the powerfully haunting images of her condition, amidst the backdrop of the disgusting cell in which she was kept, caused an internet storm of protest.
Throughout 2012 and 2013, internet campaigners and animal welfare group Cee4Life raised awareness of Melani's plight in an effort to shame the Indonesian authorities into taking action. Global petitions containing 184,488 signatures were presented to Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan in in his Jakarta office in July 2013. While at the meeting, the Minister appeared unmoved by the petitions, and the zoo administrators (who were surprise attendees at the meeting) even disputed the evidence presented. They claimed that the photos were fake, and that the animals were treated very well at Surabaya Zoo.
But public pressure continued to mount, and as news sites continued to embarrass the government, the zoo started moving out some of the worst cases of abuse, sometimes under the cover of darkness in an attempt to cover up the situation. Often the tactics used by zoo staff continued to demonstrate their inability to care for wild animals. For example on July 13th 2013 under the cover of darkness, zoo staff attempted to clandestinely move four endangered hippos. Two dozen staff surrounded the hippos, and they were beaten with bamboo poles in an attempt to move them, causing facial and neck injuries.
Melani was rescued in June/July 2013, and is now receiving professional care. Dozens of other animals have also been rescued in the second half of 2013, although the Mayor of Surabaya has referred to them as stolen, and alleges that the administrators traded the animals for vehicles and other items.
The barbarity of the hanged lion images may finally have forced the authorities to act. On January 22nd, the Jakarta Globe reported that a high level meeting has resulted in the administrators of the zoo being sacked. "This definitive license (to administer the zoo) will be given to the mayor this week," Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan said following a meeting with Surabaya Mayor Tri Rismaharini and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Whether this leads to the improvement of the zoo is not certain. Mayor Rismaharini is deemed as popular with the citizens of Surabaya, who consider her to not be corrupt. However the mayor and her team have limited experience in the care of wild animals, and has often refused access to professionals wanting to better the care of the animals at Surabaya Zoo. Cee4Life has published an open letter to the mayor begging her to allow professionals access to the animals, to which the mayor has not yet responded. It is also alleged she is refusing to update the outdated and cruel Victorian era enclosures, as she believes it would destroy the atmosphere of the zoo.
Only time will tell if the world's worst zoo will be closed, or dragged into the modern world. One thing is for sure, the internet community is greatly helping the cause. You can add your voice by signing this author's petition and the Cee4Life petition.