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The Truth About Surabaya Zoo

Updated on May 13, 2012

The truth behind the lies about Surabaya Zoo

Surabaya Zoo in Indonesia is one of the oldest and largest zoos in Asia. It's central location within the city make it a very popular meeting point and people will go to the zoo just to catch up with friends. Zoos are 'safe' entertainment within Muslim countries like Indonesia. They are non religious, non political and non pornographic.

As Asian Zoos go Surabaya Zoo is one of the better ones. There are far worse ones elsewhere in Indonesia. I know because I have visited them. Surabaya Zoo is not without its faults but what zoo is? Entertainment could be so easily be turned into Edutainment and the numerous visitors would soak up the knowledge. Proper management and breeding programmes could bring the animal problems into check and an environmental enrichment programme would be icing on the cake for all.

The real problem about Surabaya Zoo today is its location. This is prime development land. Its city central 'green' location has big business salivating in anticipation of the zoo failing. They want it to go. Every opportunity to muddy the zoos reputation is taken and the press are taken in because they love a bad news story. If just one of them was to make a genuine and sincere investigation they could expose the truth. This of course would not be without its risks. There is corruption and big money at stake here.

The Names The Press Give To Surabaya Zoo

I don't recall which newspaper it was that first started the name calling but others quickly followed suit. Those which spring to mind are "Zoo of Death", "Death Ridden", "Nightmare Zoo".

The trouble with such names is that people believe them. They don't investigate. If it is in print then it must be true. Then there are the anti-zoo crowd, the animal liberationists. They are more than happy, Right now they are tucked up snuggly in bed with big business and the commercial zoo group.

The Giraffe

The zoos last Giraffe died in March 2012. The press, orchestrated by those who want the zoo to close, went to town. The story appeared in practically every paper in the the world. The cause of death was an 18 Kg ball of plastic in its stomach. The way the story was put out was to suggest that this was a starving animal that was eating plastic to survive.

Rubbish! The age of this animal was said to be nearing 30 years old. This made it one of the oldest Giraffes in captivity in the world. That in itself indicates that this was a well cared for and well maintained animal. Nobody was deliberately feeding it plastic! Giraffes along with many other animals will eat anything they can reach or what blows into their enclosures. True enough it should not happen and maximum efforts should be made to prevent it happening... but it does. There is probably not a zoo in the world which has not experienced a similar problem at some point. Farmers too with their cows. I have been present at at least the autopsies where similar plastic concretions were found in the gut. This is a long term build up possibly over several years which suddenly becomes a problem.

The giraffe died. It was very sad. I am sure, 100% sure that more than one of the animal keeping staff will have shed a tear or two either openly or privately. Meanwhile the corruption crew will have been rubbing their hands in glee.

The Komodo Dragons

The story about three missing Komodo Dragons is brought up time and again. The suggestion put out is that they were stolen by zoo staff and disappeared into the exotic pet trade. True enough it could have happened but nobody proved it. When the story first appeared there was also the suggestion that these juvenile animals and were housed in an enclosure with much larger Komodos. It makes much more sense to me to suggest that they were eaten by the larger animals. For the corruption crew however it is better if they continue to paint the keepers in a bad light.

The Interim Director Connection

Tony Sumampauw, the zoo’s government-appointed interim director loses no opportunity to run the zoo down and point a finger at the zoo staff as though it is all their fault. In actual fact the buck stops with him. He is the man in charge and yet he has acknowledged he has had little success in controlling the undisciplined staff. One statement attributed to him is "We need to either think about privatizing or transferring out some of the animals." I disagree with the privatisation but agree wholeheartedly with the suggestion of transfer. If there is overcrowding then reduce numbers by sending to appropriate well managed collections or carry out euthanasia where needed. Where the animals are sent is important. They should not be dumped on collections with inadequate facilities which are not members of an official breeding programme and have not a clue about conservation.

Tony Sumampauw, in his other life works for the Taman Safari Group. This is a commercial money making enterprise. The nearest Taman Safari is less than an hours drive from Surabaya Zoo. Think about it, but not too deeply, the very best thing that could happen to the Taman Safari would be for the Surabaya Zoo to close.

Come on!!! Some eyes really need to be opened here. Surabaya Zoo is being deliberately set up to fail. Why? So that a bunch of greedy and corrupt officials, who probably hand in hand with Taman Safari will make a fortune out of property speculation and vastly increased gate take.

Okay maybe I am completely wrong, but I don't think so. Do the research, look back over the links, follow the developments. I mean in all honesty if you were a zoo in trouble would you bring in someone from your nearest competitor to put things right? Someone who constantly runs the place down in the press? someone who has had "little success in controlling the undisciplined staff."

This Surabaya story is very much in the news right now. DON'T take it at face value. It is just one story being garbled through paper after paper. Believe it and you are letting the bad guys win. (From Zoo News Digest 3rd - 15th March 2012 (Zoo News 809))

Animals Die

Animals in zoos tend to live a lot longer than they do in the wild but they do die eventually. Everything dies in the end. Larger zoos with bigger numbers of animals are inevitably going to have a larger number of deaths than a smaller zoo. Time and again with Surabaya Zoo there is mention made of "approximately 15 animals at the zoo die every month". It sounds appalling and is said to be less now than previously but then in a zoo which is said to care for 4,000 animals it is probably not as bad as it seems. Remember the giraffe, it was getting on in years and no doubt many other animals are too, and breeding continues as well.

A few larger animals are made mention of such as "Sumatran tiger, an African lion, a wallaby, a Komodo dragon, a babirusa cub, a Bawean deer, a crocodile and several birds". This is not remarkable. Animals die! There is no indication that they were abused, mistreated or anything of that nature. There is nobody working in any zoo anywhere that has not seen similar deaths.

Zoos are like towns. They have aging populations and new births. The circle of life goes on. It is all very well talking about "premature death" without actually explaining what an animal died of.

My Connection

I have no connection with Surabaya Zoo nor any special affection for it. What is wrong is wrong and should be righted. The zoo is extremely popular. It is a zoo for the people. It has tremendous potential to educate. If it were to close then the vast majority of the current visitors would not be able to afford the time or money to visit Taman Safari. Meanwhile a few people would become very wealthy as a result of the peoples loss.

Let Surabaya Zoo be.


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