Skip to main content

Animals suffer amid delays over Indonesia zoo rescue

By Kathy Quiano, CNN
updated 9:27 PM EDT, Tue April 24, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Years of neglect are evident in mortality rates at Indonesia's Surabaya Zoo
  • Until the government stepped in two years ago, 25 animals were dying each month
  • Conditions have improved but overcrowding, poor sanitation and inbreeding remain problems
  • Zookeeper Tony Samampau is trying to change attitudes, improve animal welfare

Surabaya, Indonesia (CNN) -- A tiger swims in a pond to cool off on a hot Saturday morning. School children stroll under a canopy of trees and watch Kalimantan gibbons playfully swing on the branches.

All seems fine at the Surabaya Zoo, Indonesia's oldest zoo and once its most impressive. But a closer look reveals the sad state it has fallen into.

Out of the public's sight, tigers are kept in small, dark cages. There is little room outside for all of its 15 tigers to roam, so only one is let out at a time.

A Sumatran tiger "Betina" is so sick she cannot keep any food down. A few cages away is another emaciated white tiger "Santi."

Indonesia's Surabaya Zoo was once one of the country's finest, but in recent years standards have declined to the point where 25 animals were dying each month. This caged Macaw has plucked out its feathers due to stress from living in cramped conditions, zookeepers say. Indonesia's Surabaya Zoo was once one of the country's finest, but in recent years standards have declined to the point where 25 animals were dying each month. This caged Macaw has plucked out its feathers due to stress from living in cramped conditions, zookeepers say.
Inside Indonesia's Surabaya Zoo
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
>
>>

"See, these tigers never go out their whole life, they're very skinny tigers," said experienced zookeeper Tony Sumampau.

Art by animals raises money for charity

Sumampau was brought in by the Indonesian government to lead a temporary team to improve conditions when it took over the privately run zoo in 2010.

Scientists get heart data from Gorillas

He now spends two days a week trying to teach zoo staff how to care for animals kept in cramped and unsanitary living conditions for far too long.

A look at Australia's tree kangaroo

Before Sumampau arrived, about 25 of the zoo's 4,000 animals died each month, many of them prematurely, from disease and neglect. Among them was a cheetah, a gift from South Africa's President, whose leg was bitten off by a tiger and later died.

Jack Hanna's take on exotic snake ban

Sumampau says trained zookeepers would never put cheetahs and tigers together. "I think this is the only zoo I heard where a cheetah fights with the tigers, in this zoo, because they never meet in the wild," he explained.

There has been some progress since his temporary team came in. Now, an average of 15 of the zoo's animals dies each month.

In March, the zoo's last remaining giraffe was one of them.

An autopsy revealed that the adult male had eaten a staggering amount of plastic; around 18 kilograms or 40 pounds was found in its abdomen, mostly food wrappers.

According to Sumampau, it is not the only animals to have ingested trash that ends up in the enclosures.

Poor sanitation and uncontrolled breeding also remain serious challenges for the zoo.

A pelican nurses her chick in a pen it shares with about 160 other pelicans. There is so little room, the birds can barely stand and unfurl their wings.

Several primates and birds are kept side by side in what was once the zoo's quarantine area.

A brightly-coloured macaw no longer has any feathers on its breast. It has become so stressed by living in captivity that it has plucked them all out, Samampau says.

Lutvi Achmad, the head of the East Java Natural Resources Conservation Center, who works with Sumampau, told CNN, "This overpopulation has been going on for so long, there's inbreeding and for sure this won't be a good thing for the Surabaya Zoo."

The biggest problem Sumampau says is the lack of understanding of animal welfare and conservation. He is slowly training the zoo's 70 keepers but faces resistance from some who have worked in the zoo for years, even decades.

A baby elephant pulls against the chains secured around its legs as it moves around a cramped, concrete cell. One of the keepers tells Sumampau the chains are used to train the young elephant to walk.

Frequent changes in management and infighting are to be blamed for the zoo's appalling state, according to the team.

This overpopulation has been going on for so long, there's inbreeding and for sure this won't be a good thing for the Surabaya Zoo
Lutvi Achmad, East Java Natural Resources Conservation Center

Sumampau appointed one of the zoo's staff, Sri Pentawati, as the new curator. She says she was reluctant to take on the position but is heartened by the changes. "Our zoo is old", she said. "It will take time to modernize it, however, some of visitors notice the changes because some of the cages are getting fixed already."

Enclosures for the Komodo dragons, endangered and found only in Indonesia, have been renovated and the younger lizards are now kept separate from the adults who can prey on them.

The barriers are low and properly installed for visitors to safely watch the Komodo dragons sunbathe.

"If you can set up exhibits showing the animals' normal behavior so people will see and know about tiger behavior, elephant behavior and things like that, the zoo in fact is education for the visitor," Sumampau said.

Rebuilding the zoo will require expertise and money. However, with tickets priced at less than $2 each, revenues are just enough to feed the animals and keep the zoo running.

Sumampau and his team have proposed plans to modernize the zoo, but stakeholders, including Surabaya's local government and the Indonesian Forestry Ministry, have yet to agree on a scheme and appoint a management team.

The Forestry Ministry wants the Surabaya local government to appoint a third-party team of professionals to run the zoo. The Surabaya administration prefers a body owned by municipality to take over.

"We will support whoever, professionals, chosen by the local government to run the zoo," Achmad said. "Our duty here is temporary and it is to save the animals, rescue them and prepare for the eventual transfer to the next management."

"We need everyone to have the same vision to fulfill animal welfare of the zoo animals, that's the most important thing", stressed Sumampau. "The surplus animals have to be out, or euthanized, whichever is better, or some can be released to the wild. This has to be done and then we need funding to rebuild the zoo completely."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:26 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
Advocates say the exam includes unnecessarily invasive and irrelevant procedures -- like a so-called "two finger" test.
updated 7:09 PM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Supplies of food, clothing and fuel are running short in Damascus and people are going hungry as the civil war drags on.
updated 1:01 PM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
Supporters of Richard III want a reconstruction of his head to bring a human aspect to a leader portrayed as a murderous villain.
updated 10:48 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Robert Fowler spent 130 days held hostage by the same al Qaeda group that was behind the Algeria massacre. He shares his experience.
updated 12:07 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
The relationship is, once again, cold enough to make Obama's much-trumpeted "reset" in Russian-U.S. relations seem thoroughly off the rails.
Ten years on, what do you think the Iraq war has changed in you, and in your country? Send us your thoughts and experiences.
updated 7:15 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Musician Daniela Mercury has sold more than 12 million albums worldwide over a career span of nearly 30 years.
Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
updated 7:06 PM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
updated 7:37 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
That galaxy far, far away is apparently bigger than first thought. The "Star Wars" franchise will get two spinoff movies, Disney announced.
updated 2:18 AM EST, Fri February 8, 2013
It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.
ADVERTISEMENT