As a keeper at Wellington Zoo, New Zealand for a short time, I can appreciate some of the many complex issues that face zoos regarding look after their animals. This from the International Herald Tribune
Zookeepers around the world, facing limited capacity and pressure to maintain diverse and vibrant collections of endangered species, are often choosing between two controversial methods: birth control and euthanasia.
In the United States, the choice is contraception. Chimps take human birth control pills, giraffes are served hormones in their feed, and grizzly bears have slow-releasing hormones implanted in their forelegs. Even small rodents are included.
Cheryl Asa, who directs the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Wildlife Contraception Center at the St. Louis Zoo, said euthanasia was not a comfortable fit for zoos here. “On an emotional level, I can’t imagine doing it and I can’t imagine our culture accepting it,” she said.
Dr. Asa sees contraception as a better approach. “By preventing the birth of animals beyond carrying capacity,” she said, “more animals can be well cared for.”
But in Europe, some zookeepers would rather euthanize unneeded offspring after they mature than deny the animal parents the experience of procreating and nurturing their young.
“We’d rather they have as natural behavior as possible,” said Bengt Holst, director of conservation for the Copenhagen Zoo. “We have already taken away their predatory and antipredatory behaviors. If we take away their parenting behavior, they have not much left.”
So he and many of his European counterparts generally allow animals to raise their young until an age at which they would naturally separate from parents. It is then that zoo officials euthanize offspring that do not figure in breeding plans.
This spring, the Copenhagen Zoo put down, by lethal injection, two leopard cubs, about 2 years old, whose genes were already overrepresented in the collective zoo population. Leopards are considered near threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. But as part of a breeding plan to maintain the genetic diversity of this species, the cubs’ fate was determined before they were born.
“We promised the species coordinator that the offspring would never leave the zoo,” Mr. Holst said, meaning they would not be bred with leopards from other zoos. The Copenhagen Zoo, he said, annually puts to death some 20 to 30 healthy exotic animals — gazelles, hippopotamuses, and on rare occasions even chimps.
The thinking is that this strategy mimics what would have occurred in the wild, where some 80 percent of feline offspring die from predation, starvation or injury, he said.
Terry Maple, the former director of Zoo Atlanta and co-editor of “Ethics on the Ark,” said that while he knew of no studies assessing the importance of raising young to animals’ health or well-being, observation indicated that most zoo animals are motivated and protective parents that play frequently with offspring.
He acknowledged that American zoos once focused more on the intricacies of breeding endangered species than on their day-to-day well-being, but said this was changing. In meticulously planning their populations, Mr. Maple said, zoos will eventually avoid a surplus of animals and ensure that most breed and raise offspring. “I am not saying management euthanasia is wrong,” he said. “It is just not the best solution.”
International guidelines on the ethics of breeding zoo animals have been elusive, in part because philosophies vary, said Dave Morgan, chairman of the Population Management Committee at the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The African association of zoos lists euthanasia as a population management tool, whereas the precepts of Hinduism and Buddhism make the killing of even terminally ill animals difficult.
Both the United States and Europe tolerate the euthanasia of feral cats and dogs. Euthanasia is permitted under the American zoo association’s regulations, but is mainly reserved for ill or elderly animals, said Steve Feldman, the association’s spokesman.
Although reliable data on the use of contraception is not kept by zoo associations, officials say that it is much more prevalent in North America but that it is starting to expand in Europe.
American zoos began developing contraception for highly fertile animals like lions in the 1970s, after breakthroughs in human birth control. Contraception use then expanded as it became quite difficult for zoos to sell or give away animals they could no longer accommodate.
This kind of family planning meant males and females no longer had to be kept apart to avoid unwanted pregnancies, which was ideal for the transition to more natural zoo environments. There were benefits, too, for zookeepers: hormones in contraceptives given males can take the edge off aggressive behaviors surrounding competition for a mate, which can result in mayhem and unsettle visitors.
There was a time when no one could have imagined that contraception would be needed for the Mexican wolf, a species hunted nearly to extinction in the 1970s. Zoos began with only seven survivors and bred a captive colony of nearly 300 wolves, saving the species. Ninety-two were reintroduced into the wild by the federal government starting in 1998, but then four years ago, the government used up the limited space that had been allotted for the program in New Mexico and Arizona.
Neglected, cramped, and now fatally ill-kept – the animals in these zoos are dying. Where are they? Indonesia, a nation famous for its wildlife and wilderness. Kathy Marks reports from Jakarta
In a remote corner of Jakarta‘s Ragunan Zoo, a Malayan sun bear is pacing back and forth, shaking its head in an agitated manner. There is no shade or shelter in the tiny, dilapidated enclosure – just a stagnant pond full of rubbish. The bear, which is riddled with mange, rears up against a concrete wall and howls.
It’s a scene that is not uncommon in Indonesia, where zoos have come under scrutiny following the death of a giraffe in Surabaya, East Java – later found to have a 40-pound wad of plastic in its stomach. In a country known for its rich biodiversity, many rare and threatened native creatures – such as the honey-eating sun bear – are kept in squalid and cramped conditions that appal animal welfare experts.
Conservationists, who have been lobbying for standards to be raised, were horrified by a recent announcement that Indonesia and China plan to exchange emblematic animals as a mark of friendship. The former will receive some endangered pandas, the latter some rare Komodo dragons.
At Surabaya, dubbed the “zoo of death” by The Jakarta Post newspaper, more than 700 animals died prematurely – mainly from disease and malnutrition – between 2008 and mid-2010. While the mortality rate has decreased since Tony Sumampouw, secretary of the Indonesian Zoo and Aquarium Association, was drafted in, Surabaya – where the giraffe swallowed plastic packaging thrown into its enclosure – remains chronically overcrowded.
According to Mr Sumampouw, enclosures have not been updated for 50 years. “We have 167 pelicans in a 40-metre by 20-metre cage, so they can’t even open their wings,” he says. “We have more than 20 lions and tigers, and most of them never see the sunlight, they never enjoy the fresh air, they never exercise.” One rare white tiger, a gift from the Indian government, has been outside so rarely that, as a result of back problems, it can barely stand up.
Across the country – particularly in zoos owned and run by municipal governments – listless and unhealthy animals are kept in ageing pens, looked after by keepers with no training and little interest in the job. Diet and veterinary care are poor. “The people managing our zoos only think about profit,” says Made Wedana, an internationally respected biologist who ran the primate centre at Ragunan Zoo for five years. “They don’t really care about animal welfare, or understand zoos.”
One of the biggest obstacles is cultural. In Indonesia, zoos are regarded as cheap entertainment for the impoverished masses. Admission is as little as 4,000 rupiah (27 pence): a trifling sum even for working-class Indonesians.
On a recent public holiday, Ragunan Zoo – in Jakarta’s teeming southern suburbs – was already crowded at 7.30am. Dangdut music (a local brand of pop) blasted out of radios, and motorbikes thundered around the sprawling zoo’s sealed tracks. Dozens of roadside stalls sold food, soft drinks and souvenirs. Two children fed popcorn to a striped deer, and visitors laughed as a critically endangered Sumatran elephant slapped itself repeatedly with its trunk.
The primate centre – a modern complex established with a multimillion-dollar bequest from a Dutch conservationist, Pauline Schmutzer, who hoped it would encourage Indonesians to value their native wildlife – was a contrast to the rest of the zoo. There, gorillas roamed on a large, jungle-clad island festooned with dangling ropes and tyres, and a female orang-utan reclined in the shade, eating a starfruit, with her outstretched arm around her baby.
However, Mr Wedana believes that even that centre – which was modelled on John Aspinall’s Kent zoo, Howletts, and where staff were trained by Howletts – has deteriorated since being handed over to local management.
Indonesian zoos have been accused of fuelling the illegal wildlife trade – and the plundering of wild populations – by acquiring animals from dubious sources. Within zoos, theft and corruption are rife. At Surabaya, keepers are believed to have stolen and sold Komodo dragons, and even to have pilfered meat destined for the emaciated tigers.
Ian Singleton, director of the Sumatran Orang-utan Conservation Programme, and a former zookeeper at Jersey Zoo, now the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, says Indonesian zoos should breed their own animals and swap them with other institutions. Instead, uncontrolled breeding takes place – unlike in Western zoos, contraception is rare – creating in-bred populations and massive overcrowding.
Mr Sumampouw is at his wits’ end. His efforts to euthanize surplus animals or transfer them to other zoos have been blocked by Surabaya’s board. In Indonesia, a mark of a good zoo is having a large number of animals.
In many government-run zoos, Mr Wedana says, keepers just feed the animals and – occasionally – clean the enclosures. “It’s not enough for the animal welfare,” he laments. “What about their enrichment? What about exercise? What about population management?”
He used to run workshops, teaching zoo staff from around Indonesia how to keep animals healthy. But they failed to practice what they learnt, he says – out of apathy, or because their superiors were uninterested. After being trained in the UK to look after gorillas, some Ragunan keepers were put in charge of tigers on their return.
Mr Wedana also tried without success to persuade the Governor of Jakarta – who has responsibility for the zoo – to upgrade enclosures.
“But the attitude is that if an animal dies, we’ll just get another one,” he says.
Writing in The Jakarta Post recently, Mr Singleton said: “Managing a zoo is not rocket science. Many animals will survive and even breed if simply given a safe and sheltered enclosure, clean drinking water and adequate nutrition.” He believes entry fees for Indonesia’s 50-plus zoos should be increased, enabling them to re-invest in infrastructure and animal care – and engendering more public respect for wildlife.
At Ragunan, most of the information boards have worn away. “In the West, the idea of zoos is conservation, education and entertainment,” Mr Singleton says. “Here it’s entertainment and nothing else. The education is pathetic, and conservation – forget it. The last place you’d want to put an endangered species is an Indonesian zoo, because it will die.”
- The Disturbing State of Indonesia’s ‘Zoo of Death’ (newsfeed.time.com)
- Morrissey calls for shut down of notorious Javan zoo (telegraph.co.uk)
- URGENT TO ALL NGO’s – WE ARE BEING ASKED FOR OUR HELP – SURABAYA ZOO, INDONESIA (greatcatsoftheworld.wordpress.com)
- 20 kgs of plastic in dead giraffe: Indonesian zoo (ndtv.com)
- Nightmare zoo in Indonesia shaken by giraffe’s death (mercurynews.com)
- Surabaya Zoo Giraffe Death Brings Indonesia Animal Abuse To Light (preciousjules1985.wordpress.com)
- 20 kgs of plastic in dead giraffe (nation.com.pk)
- Twenty kilograms of plastic inside dead giraffe (news.com.au)
‘Cruel’ treatment of elephants in zoos must stop, says RSPCA
By Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor
No more elephants should be imported into Britain, the RSPCA has said, calling for the animals to be phased out from British zoos.
Comment: As a zookeeper in New Zealand for a brief year, I was acutely aware of the conditions te animals had to endure – let alone the keepers themselves in cleaning regimes! Thankfully, this is now being acknowledged.
Recent research has shown that they were suffering from severe welfare problems which range from lameness and obesity to obsessive behaviour, and that it was inappropriate and cruel to keep them in confinement, the society said.
The RSPCA was reacting angrily to a report from the Government’s own advisory committee, the Zoos Forum, which endorsed the research findings on welfare problems, but stopped short of calling for an elephant ban.
Britain has 70 elephants in captivity, made up of 37 Asian elephants and 33 of the larger African species. They are being kept in 13 zoos, with the highest numbers being 12 at Howletts Wild Animal Park in Kent, 10 at Chester Zoo, and eight at Whipsnade Zoo near Dunstable in Befordshire, the companion park to London Zoo, which stopped keeping elephants on its 35-acre site in Regent’s Park in 2001 when its three remaining animals were transferred to the more spacious Whipsnade.
Two years ago, a group of senior researchers from Bristol University visited all 13 establishments and made a detailed study of elephant welfare, housing and husbandry in them, which raised grave concerns.
The study said that although the zoos were aware of the problems and were continually trying to “enrich and improve” the elephants’ lives, there were serious problems. These included difficulties with their feet, their gait and their weight, while nearly 50 per cent of the Asian elephants and 25 per cent of the African animals performed stereotypic behaviours – repetitive, unvarying and apparently functionless actions that indicate distress.
But the study concerned itself merely merely with welfare and made no policy recommendations about zoo elephants in general – a task which had been left to the Government’s independent advisory body, the Zoos Forum, which has a wide range of membership, including zoo personnel.
Yesterday the forum published its own report on the welfare study, and acknowledged that the problems needed to be tackled “vigorously”.
It set out four “options for the way forward”. These were firstly to remove elephants from the UK, secondly to manage the national herd to extinction, thirdly to continue to breed but cease imports, and fourthly a concerted improvement programme. The report is guarded in its verdict but it seems most inclined to the fourth option.
However, it should have opted for the import ban and the “managing to extinction” strategy, the society said. “We are extremely disappointed that the report did not recommend an outright ban on importing elephants to UK zoos,” said RSPCA scientist Dr Ros Clubb.
“The RSPCA believes that until solutions to the extensive and serious welfare problems can be found we should not be introducing more elephants. Elephants are without question suffering in zoos.
“Adding yet more to an ailing population simply masks the problems, and if drastic improvements to them cannot be found, the RSPCA believes zoos should phase out elephant keeping.”
The news (The Independent) that primates – spiders monkeys, tamarins, and lemurs amongst others – are threatened with extinction as a result of hunting for bushmeat and habitat destruction, has me chilled and angry! If we cannot have respect for our closest members of the animal kingdom - one yardstick of our attitude about other species with which we share this planet, I would argue – what hope is there for other, smaller life forms? If we allow this to continue, we the savages for doing so!
As a Zookeeper for a short period in native New Zealand (I moved onto Education after this), I was priviledged to work on the Primate Section with a number of animals including a group of gregarious Spider Monkeys, a very cute Golden-Lion Tamarin, a couple of lively, regular-calling Lemurs, and a large troop of chimpanzees, amongst others.
The spider monkeys’ enclosure was difficult to keep clean but I loved there quircky characteristics. The chimps – a species made famous by Jane Goodall - were hard to figure out and could be very sweet with each other or also get angry! They had very strong bonds and I was not surprised to find out that they are 98% genetically simlar to humans; our closest living realtive, animal-wise. My favourite was the Golden Lion Tamarin, a tiny (in comparision to the others) animal, with considerable positive ‘spunk’ – you could imagine I having lots of attitiude to help to survive, despite all the odds.
The latest survey by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) shows these kinds of species are amongst those critically threatened.
Yes, animals that provide bushmeat are an easy target; yes, the countries this happens in, are very often very poor. But, also, yes, there are always alternatives – ecotourism, foreign assitance to help develop local agriculture.
Where there is demand by humans, the hunting of these animals and the destruction of their habitat will continue. Just as in Copenhangen, the governments will need to work together to find altenative – viable – solutions, to what are not intractiable problems. In this International Year of Biodiversity, we owe it to the peoples of these countries, to the species, and ultimately, to ourselves!
On the brink of extinction – 25 of our closest relatives
Governments around the world need to take drastic action to save the most endangered primate species, a new report is demanding
By Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor
Today a group of the world’s leading zoologists reveals the 25 most endangered members of the primates – the biological order which contains monkeys, tarsiers, lemurs, gibbons and the great apes, including, of course, humans.
We may be doing fine, at least in terms of numbers: at 7pm last night, the human population of the world had reached 6,803,362,494. It hit 6 billion in 1999 and will hit 7 billion possibly as soon as next year. But our primate cousins are in a very different position.
There are just over 630 species in total, and incredible as it may seem, more than 300 are now threatened with extinction, from developments such as the destruction of tropical forests, the illegal wildlife trade and commercial hunting for bushmeat. This morning, the dangers facing the “top 25″, the species really living on the edge, will be highlighted at a conference in Bristol Zoo.
The list includes five primate species from Madagascar, six from Africa, 11 from Asia, and three from Central and South America, all of which are now in need of urgent help to survive.
Conservationists want to highlight the plight of species such as the golden headed langur, which is found only on the island of Cat Ba in the Gulf of Tonkin, north-eastern Vietnam, where just 60 to 70 individuals remain.
Similarly, there are thought to be fewer than 100 individual northern sportive lemurs left in Madagascar, and about just 110 eastern black crested gibbons in north-eastern Vietnam.
“The purpose of our Top 25 list is to highlight those that are most at risk, to attract the attention of the public, to stimulate national governments to do more, and especially to find the resources to implement desperately needed conservation measures,” said Dr Russell Mittermeier, chairman of the Primate Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
“In particular, we want to encourage governments to commit to desperately needed biodiversity conservation measures. We have the resources to address this crisis, but so far, we have failed to act. The results from the most recent IUCN assessment of the world’s mammals indicate that the primates are among the most endangered vertebrate groups.” The report gives a fascinating insight into some of the animals which, although they may share a distant common ancestor with us, are hardly known by most of us at all.
Madagascar is home, for example, to the stunning silky sifaka, a wonderful white lemur which is now one of the rarest mammals on earth, whose numbers may be down to no more than 100 because of forest destruction from slash-and-burn agriculture, illegal logging and firewood collection.
Africa holds creatures as remarkable as the rondo dwarf galago, with a tiny frame, huge ears and huge eyes, and the roloway guenon, a strikingly attractive dark-and-white treetop monkey with yellow thighs and a white beard – both shrinking drastically in numbers.
Asia’s vanishing primates include such creatures as the pig-tailed snub-nosed langur – if you can’t remember that, it’s also usefully called the simakobu monkey – which is down to perhaps 3,300 individuals on its Indonesian islands, and also, sad to relate, an animal which is very familiar to us, the Sumatran orang-utan.
On Sumatra the “old man of the woods” has had a very rapid recent decline because of deforestation and its population is now thought to be below 7,000.
Three of the primates on the top 25 come from Central and South America and include the cotton top tamarin, found only in Colombia, with a fantastic white head of hair, and critically endangered.
However, despite the gloomy assessment, conservationists point to the success in helping targeted species recover. In Brazil, the black lion tamarin (Leontopithecus chrysopygus) was downlisted to Endangered from Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, as was the golden lion tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia) in 2003, as a result of three decades of conservation efforts involving numerous institutions, many of which were zoos.
Populations of both animals are now well-protected but remain very small, indicating an urgent need for reforestation to provide new habitat for their long-term survival.
* Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates, 2008-2010 has been compiled by the Primate Specialist Group of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission (SSC) and the International Primatological Society (IPS), in collaboration with Conservation International (CI).