The Pata Zoo Gorilla Keeper
The Pata Zoo in Bangkok is getting some renewed criticism in February 2010 and so has appeared on Thailand National Television, the local and some International press. The zoo is, quite naturally defending itself. This will in turn lead to more criticism and then everything will go quiet again for a year or so. This has been the cycle of events in the saga of the Pata Zoo for a number of years. During all of this time of critique and reply there does not appear to have been any real improvements.
I have visited Pata Zoo a number of times and wrote up a report on my last visit which can be read at 'Pata Zoo in Bangkok ,Thailand'. I said it as I saw it and like so many of my Zoo Visits it was a none working visit and not one wearing a zoo inspector hat. If it were that it would read quite differently. I am very often critical but do not dot all the the i's and cross the t's in my personal articles.
That said, Pata Zoo is not a good zoo. It is an interesting collection to visit and sometimes a disturbing one but it does have its high points. These tend to be completely ignored by those who visit just to criticise.
During the current period of Pata Zoo criticism the Gorilla Keeper made a statement to the local newspaper. His story got me thinking because, in truth, he is no different to the dedicated professional zoo keepers around the world.
The keepers are NOT the zoo. The keepers are the carers but they are not the raison d'etre for the zoo whether it is government, private or commercial. Pata Zoo is commercial. It is out to earn as much money as it can for its owners. The keeper too needs money to provide for his/her family but in most cases the keeper is there for other reasons too.
The Gorilla Keeper in Pata Zoo stated: "I love the gorillas more than my children". I can relate to that statement as I know will many professional zookeepers around the world. In my own case I did not love the animals more than my own children but they came a very very very close second. The animals often took priority over my own children though because my kids had a mother and they could cope in a crisis. The animals could not. I lost count of the innumerable missed holidays, days off etc because of the keeper conviction.
The Gorilla Keeper in Pata Zoo has been working with the primates there for thirty years. He is there because he cares for his animals. It is in no way his fault that the accommodation is as it is or the animals are what they are. He does his best with what is available. He keeps the enclosures clean. And clean they are. Pata Zoo, in spite of its location does not smell and is quite airy.
There is some limited cage furniture but no enrichment. Whose fault is that? I don't blame the keeper unless it has been shown and explained to him.
If you read what the Gorilla Keeper, Suwan Netlak has to say you really have to read between the lines. The man definitely cares but his lack of knowledge and power prevent him from caring better. He is hurt by people criticising his care and again I can empathise as no doubt will keepers in zoos the world over who are getting the knife from the press or so called animal liberation groups.
Zoo Keepers do care. The bad ones do not last long because they lack the dedication and yes 'love' of the work and the animals they care for. I believe the Gorilla Keeper in Pata Zoo is one of these. He has been doing his job since before many of his critics were born. Through no fault of his own he is not going to win any medals but I am sure he actually deserves one or two.
There are those who may wonder why after so many years that he is still a Gorilla Keeper. Why has he not been promoted or moved on? The zoo world has many like him. People who choose to remain doing exactly what they are doing because they love their work. They are happy and satisfied with their life. They may moan about management but they stay put. Some will be offered promotion but turn it down. Some may be head hunted but say thank you but 'no'. I have met millionaires working as keepers. They keep their status quiet but do what they do because they love their work. They say "never judge a book by its cover" and if this applies to no other profession it most certainly does to animal keeping.
I have never met the Gorilla keeper, Mr Suwan Netlak, but I respect him in the same way that I respect serious professional Zoo Keepers everywhere. The zoo may often be badly managed with a purely commercial motive but within such places there are genuine caring staff. I don't believe they should be tarred with the same brush.
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