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The Pata Zoo Gorilla Keeper

Updated on July 29, 2019
Peter Dickinson profile image

Independent International Zoo Consultant giving a professional viewpoint based of 50 years practical zoo experience.

The Pata Zoo in Bangkok is getting some renewed criticism in February 2010 and July 2019 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 visited again in June 2019. No changes there apart from a single Bonobo which I don't recollect ever seeing before.

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.



Photo by Peter Dickinson
Photo by Peter Dickinson

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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  • Peter Dickinson profile imageAUTHOR

    Peter Dickinson 

    8 years ago from South East Asia

    Thanks Ashley. I reckon Pata is a darn sight better than Sri Racha.

  • AshleyVincent profile image


    8 years ago from Thailand

    Never even heard of the Pata Zoo before, but unfortunately seen several other here in Thailand that sound all too familiar to this one. Real pleased to see you drawing the line between the responsibility of the zoo's owners and Khun Suwan's limitations, working with many fine keepers and handlers here, in my experience they all love what they do and are sometimes frustrated at not being able to do more for their animals.

    Very much enjoying your blogs Peter, will take me a while but I'm planning on doing a lot of catching up to see what else you've written. All the best :^)


  • Peter Dickinson profile imageAUTHOR

    Peter Dickinson 

    9 years ago from South East Asia

    Thank you Ralf. A happy, healthy and prosperous New Year to you too.

  • crocman1111 profile image


    9 years ago from Frankfurt, Germany

    Simply the truth - many thanks for this, Peterm and my best wishes for a happy, healthy and suucessfull New Year.


  • Peter Dickinson profile imageAUTHOR

    Peter Dickinson 

    10 years ago from South East Asia

    Thank you Ben. I have never so much thought about having a philosophy as an opinion because it is an ever changing thing, moulded by my wanders through life.

  • Ben Zoltak profile image

    Ben Zoltak 

    10 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

    Boy o boy am I glad I ran into your articles Peter. Thank you for sharing your perspective here. The timing for hearing your Zoo keeper philosophy is impeccable!

  • Peter Dickinson profile imageAUTHOR

    Peter Dickinson 

    10 years ago from South East Asia

    ntweisen - thank you for reading.

  • ntweisen profile image


    10 years ago

    Very interesting hub! Thanks for making us aware of this!

  • Peter Dickinson profile imageAUTHOR

    Peter Dickinson 

    10 years ago from South East Asia

    Hello hello - thank you. Sadly is the root of all evil.

  • Hello, hello, profile image

    Hello, hello, 

    10 years ago from London, UK

    Thank you for your interesting view point. It is like with everything. Profit, profit. The workers mostly car emore and in this case the Zoo keeper. Unfortunately, with zoos, in comparisson to manufacturing, the impact is worse.

  • Peter Dickinson profile imageAUTHOR

    Peter Dickinson 

    10 years ago from South East Asia

    Thank you Cindy. There are many like him out in zoo land.

  • Cindy Letchworth profile image

    Cindy Letchworth 

    10 years ago from Midwest, U.S.A.

    Nice article. I can relate to the relationship one has when you are dedicated to the animals you care for.

    You are wise to point out the fact that Mr. Netlack is most likely doing the best, and probably beyond his best, to provide what he can to the animals he is in charge of. Zoos can receive a lot of criticsm, but the zookeepers are often overlooked for all of their hard work. I'm glad you were able shine the light on this man's concern and love for "his" animals.

  • Peter Dickinson profile imageAUTHOR

    Peter Dickinson 

    10 years ago from South East Asia

    Thank you Basim. Your kind comment is appreciated.

  • Basim ANSARI profile image

    Basim ANSARI 

    10 years ago from K.S.A

    i like your hub really beautiful hub

  • Peter Dickinson profile imageAUTHOR

    Peter Dickinson 

    10 years ago from South East Asia

    Thanks dohn121 - I think it is unlikely that he will see or hear of the hub but then you never know. If I can give his morale a tiny boost I will be happy and maybe his charges will benefit as a result.

  • dohn121 profile image


    10 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

    Your empathy for Suwan Netlak is commendable in itself. Despite whatever charges he may or might have faced, the one thing to me that matters most is his intent which, from the sound of it, is for the greater good of the gorillas themselves.

    Hat's off to you for giving credit where it's due. I'm sure that if he comes across this hub, he'd be flattered by your commendations. Excellent work, Peter.

    It's good to read another hub on this subject matter. Thank you again.


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