The Surabaya Zoo has infamously earned the ominous nickname the “zoo of death.” This came after a spate of animal deaths that were later attributed to negligence on behalf of the zoo staff. But even though the zoo has repeatedly been called out for mistreating its animals, it still remains open to the public.
It must be said, however, that it wasn’t always this way. After all, the Surabaya Zoo opened in April 1918, and the now 37-acre site is the country’s oldest zoo. It is located on the Indonesian island of Java.
Moreover, in the 1970s, the facility enjoyed something of a heyday and became the largest zoo in Southeast Asia. Nevertheless, after years of allowing maintenance chores to go undone, the once vibrant zoo is now in disrepair, and its animals are left struggling for survival.
Indeed, conditions at the zoo have declined to such an extent that leading animal rights organization PETA has described the zoo as “hell on earth.” They added, “Animals are confined to trash-littered, barren, cramped cages that are measly fractions of the wild habitats that they would call home.”
Things came to a head in 2010 when the zoo was rocked by a raft of animal deaths, which brought public attention to how bad conditions in the zoo had become. Tonny Sumampouw, chairman of the Indonesian Zoo Association, also warned that all of the zoo’s animals were at risk of disappearing “in the next five years unless there are efforts to reorganize how the zoo is managed.”
What’s more, Sumampouw revealed that hundreds of animals, including a rare Sumatran tiger, had died at the zoo each year. Consequently, the Jakarta Post dubbed Surabaya Zoo the “zoo of death.” Sumampouw, who had been temporarily running the zoo at the time, added that many animals were also suffering from stress, hunger and overcrowding as a result of corruption and poor management.
This is even more shocking given that many of the animals in the zoo’s care were endangered species. Indeed, it was their deaths that rammed home the fact that the zoo was doing more harm than good. The Sumatran tigers are a case in point: two of the zoo’s 14 Sumatran tigers have died in recent years, and there are only an estimated 400 of them are left in the wild.
Exasperatingly, in 2012 the zoo’s last remaining giraffe, Kliwon, passed away with 44 pounds of plastic in his stomach. The starving creature had been living off whatever food visitors had thrown into its enclosure, even if it was still in plastic wrapping.
Unfortunately, the examples continue. In 2014 a young lion named Michael was found hanged in his enclosure after becoming tangled in a cable mechanism used for opening and closing his pen door. An official stated the curious creature got caught while jumping around in his small cage.
Other tragic deaths include those of a wildebeest, a mountain goat, a Komodo dragon, a babirusa, a Bawean deer and a crocodile. On top of all of this, there were still a number of animals at the zoo suffering from chronic illnesses and ailments.
For instance, the heartbreaking images of Melania the Sumatran tiger starving to death in her enclosure really drove home the extent of her neglect. And when her plight caught the attention of the press, she was moved to a new home. Sadly, though, her wasted condition meant that she died within a year.
Other disturbing photographs from the zoo’s quarantine area showed an emaciated Bengal tiger suffering from kidney failure and a missing ear. One more showed a moon bear covered in painful skin tumors.
Meanwhile, additional images pictured elephants chained up in their enclosures and prevented from moving any great distance. Some even sported large lesions on their legs where their shackles had cut into their skin.
In the pelican enclosure, meanwhile, birds were depicted as having no room to stretch their wings. However, despite this apparent overcrowding, the zoo’s head of operations Liang Kaspe insisted there was “no overpopulation.” Kaspe said, “They need to live in big groups in order to breed.”
But breeding is part of the problem. Indeed, in 2014 the zoo was home to 3,465 animals. This out-of-control breeding, then, led to reports of in-bred animals that suffered from major defects.
Frighteningly, allegations about the zoo’s management were even worse. In fact, reports claimed that the zoo had profited from the animal deaths by stripping the animal’s skins and selling parts of their carcasses on the illegal wildlife market.
All this said, the zoo has attempted to make some improvements after its license was revoked in 2010. Indeed, its entrance fees have tripled, its animals have been given more space, new blood lines have been introduced, and some animals have been moved to other facilities.
However, this hasn’t stopped animals from dying. In fact, in 2016 the zoo lost yet another rare Sumatran tiger to heart failure. This time, though, the zoo insisted that it was down to “natural causes.”
Nevertheless, the animal rights group PETA has renewed its call to have the zoo closed, at least until major upgrades are accomplished. Additionally, the campaign “Shut Down Surabaya Zoo Indonesia” has set up a petition for its cause.
The online petition – which calls for the president of Indonesia, Joko Widodo, to intervene – has, since 2013, attracted over 800,000 signatures. “Many of the animals cared for at [Surabaya Zoo] live in pitiable conditions, some are highly endangered species. This must stop,” reads the petition. But will it?