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Gembira Loka Zoo

Updated on October 14, 2011

The Gembira Loka Zoo first opened its gates in 1955. It is located just a short distance outside of the city of Yogyakarta. It is a popular weekend destination for local people and a point of interest to tourists to the area. There is a large central lake and numerous weird and wonderful entertainment devices for children dotted around the 20 hectare 400 species site. Gembira means 'happy' and Loka means 'place' so this is the Happy Place Zoo and that is what they try to achieve. The zoo is very much a botanic garden as well and there are many large trees and beautiful plants.

They have done exceptionally well in the breeding of Komodo Dragons and have produced 111 over the years.

View a set of photograhs of the zoo HERE

This is one of a series of zoo reports that was actually included within my travel journal ‘The Itinerant ZooKeeper’. Initially I started to extract the zoo data but found the reading was diminished by it. So look on it as a zoo travelogue. The only major edits I have done is a little censoring and to remove the Casanova exploits.

Tuesday 4th July 2006
First thing I made my way over to the bird market. It was much smaller than that of Jakarta. Mostly made up of chickens, or rather cockerels, and pigeons I am pleased to say.
From there I took a rickshaw out to Gembira Loka Zoo.

A strange place. Polluted river running through the centre and set in a wooded location. Dotted throughout the grounds were larger than life painted concrete Disney characters, Dinosaurs and the like. I suspect that the designer of my bathroom back at the hotel might have had a hand in somewhere.

The zoo had been badly damaged in the earthquake on May 27th. I suspect it was a bit of a mess beforehand but is now exceedingly so. The most that had been done seems to have been making things safe and putting in temporary essential repairs. There was no sign of new construction work. Who can blame really? I noted enough damage in the city when I passed through it this morning.

It does mean that today that some of the enclosures do look like disaster areas and unintentional mixes have taken place. The dividing walls between the deer pens had all collapsed meaning Axis, Timor and Muntjac are now all running together. A few with their antlers decorated with all sorts of rubbish.

If I remember rightly from the press several 'deer' were killed and two kangaroos escaped in the earthquake and some were conspicuous by their absence i.e. Nyala and in the small run of pens running up from that enclosure there were several collapsed shelters. On the staff front all were uninjured but some 70% were affected by losing family members or damage to their accommodation. This is makes it really difficult for those left behind where, in the majority of cases zoo work is just a job and not a vocation as in the West.

I understand that EAZA offered support following the disaster but I am unsure if or where this was taken up.
The zoo itself was very old fashioned, all pits and bars, far too small enclosures and nothing which struck me as a particularly good idea. The stock itself were mainly in good condition though some Deer and Nilghai looked a bit flakey.


Unusually they had Capybara here (two groups) and Brazilian Tapirs as well as Malayan. There were also an abundance of Dromedaries in two groups as well.

There were signs on some enclosures. These were A4, done on computer and laminated. I'd say just a month or so ago....these things fade, or water gets in.

Five elephants in two different large enclosures...but of course they weren't. They were chained in the open sided houses and had evidently never trodden their hallowed turf. This seems to be the picture practically everywhere I go. It is puzzling that so much land is set aside in these zoos as an elephant paddock and then never used. If ever there was need for a re-education programme it is for elephant keepers. So much tradition, rumour, fable and claptrap that needs knocking on the head. Nice looking animals though, as far as I could see. It wasn't easy to see.

I suspect there was only one Chimpanzee and one Orangutan, though I didn't see the second at all. Both were confined to their dungeonlike inside accommodation because of earthquake damage to the outside (which weren't too bad) pens. So that means they have been locked away since and there doesn't look like much of a chance they are going to see the sun for a time yet.

The Aquarium was closed so I didn't get a look in there. What I did get a look at though was an off show pen holding a group of fourteen Proboscis Monkeys. The group held together included two large males and three infants in arms. Judging by the behaviour of this group they were wild caught. Fantastic to see though. All in beautiful condition. There was a smaller group of three on public show down within the zoo proper.

The other visual treat was another group, this time of eighteen Dusky Padmelon, again with youngsters. The enclosure was, literally, a heap of rubble but the animals looked fine and, in this case, the cage was big enough.

Not so though for the lions and tigers dotted around the place. Old menagerie type constructions mainly. Those that weren't had access to big deep pits. They weren't so bad but it looked like the animals there were confined to quarters because of damage which, in effect made them worse off than those in the menagerie cages.

Zoo View

 Sun bears in bleak pits. A single hippo in a pit area. Three pygmy hippos in small enclosures in shallow stagnant pools. None of the bird enclosures were any good. A bit of wood for the parrot like to chew on would not have gone amiss but would probably have made the porcupines jealous. Primate cages too small. Barriers inadequate or non existent. Several crocodiles including two separately held absolutely massive animals. Four two wattled cassowaries, one single wattled. Two large Aldabran tortoises. I wondered if they came by way of the Seychelles...possible DNA work.

The wall along one side of the largest Komodo Dragon enclosure had collapsed completely. I wondered if any had escaped. The animals are currently held in three adequately sized smaller enclosures. Two of these held very big animals. When I looked in the first of these I remarked to myself "crikey!". Looking in the next took my breath away. Huge! By far and away the biggest Komodo I have seen yet. It took no imagination to believe this could pull down horses.

And the Palm Civet? A single animal that was going blind. Tiny little cage but a long way from being the worst I have seen. Needed branching and imagination. Which I suppose really sums up the collection as a whole.

I had to pose for several photos with pretty young girls again. I don't mind at all, as long as they don't invite me home to meet their mothers. Or maybe?

These are trying times for this zoo. Who knows what personal tragedies the earthquake brought. I wish them the best of luck for the future and getting back on course. If they are relying simply on gate cash to fund repairs then it is going to take forever. It is a vicious circle. Earthquake means no tourists means no cash means no repairs. It is not just captive animals either. The recent minor eruption of the nearby volcano has meant, understandably, less tourists visiting. Less tourists have meant that the Long tailed macaques that hang around the car parks and slopes of the volcano are getting nothing to eat (crisps and the like). They have started to descend into the towns and villages and steal.

Yogyakarta itself a neat tidy little place if you close your eyes to the debris. It is a city on the mend. There are people busy everywhere. Many of these are volunteers. Poor people themselves but with the skills to make and mend. They come daily from the countryside on donated fuel, bringing their own food and work all day for nothing. They expect nothing, they just know how they would feel if it happened to them. Some have been coming every day for weeks. It will be many months before they are no longer needed.

This evening on getting out of the Pablo P shower I slipped and fell heavily. Really went down with a thudding bruising crunch. Somehow, and I really can't figure it, I did not crash my head onto a single piece of the multitude of projecting bits of concrete. I was sooooo lucky!


If you have enjoyed reading this article you should move onto the next, entitled ‘Solo Zoo'. Or you could move back to Banjarnegara Zoo if you missed it. Please also check out my blog Zoo News Digest.

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Aldabra Tortoise in Gembira Loka Zoo


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    • dohn121 profile image

      dohn121 8 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

      That's awful to hear about the earthquake, Peter. I too hope that the zoo makes a full recovery, and hope that maybe they make so improvements in the process. Thanks.