The operating license for Pata Zoo was renewed for another year as officials claim they are not authorized to take away Bua Noi the gorilla from her home atop a Bangkok shopping mall.
It seems Bua Noi may have to spend her last decade of life in the confines of a run-down “zoo” atop a Bangkok mall, as her owner, who is convinced the gorilla is better off in the air-conditioned mall, is fighting efforts from animal activists to move the gorilla back to the wild.
“Just tell me if Bua Noi looks as if she is tortured, maltreated or crying, as netizens claimed in the social media,” said Kanit Sermsirimongkol, owner of the Pata Zoo.
Kanit defended the animals’ conditions.
“We have tried to take good care of her and other animals, but we’re repeatedly criticised by the media and animal rights activists who think they know best about conservation,” he said. “Some of those critics have never set foot in this place.”
A forgotten highlight of Bangkok in the ‘80s, Bua Noi was born in a zoo in Germany and legally imported to Thailand in 1988, three years before the Wildlife Conservation Act was written up. The presence of the big gorilla suddenly made Pata Zoo a prime weekend destination for families in the old days.
For every day since, Bua Noi has been caged in a 800-square meter space with her other wildlife friends in the nearby cages. Nobody knows if she misses sunlight or the feel of the wild beneath her feet. Officials have cautioned that her lifetime spent in the mall zoo makes her unprepared for a return to the wild as she would be endangered by diseases her immune system couldn’t handle.
“The owner also raised concerns about health hazards, because there is a history of gorillas being at risk of bacteria from the ground,” said Niphon Chotiban Director-General of Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation. “By law, Bua Noi belongs to the zoo. Relocating her to the ground and building a new habitat will cost 30-50 million baht.”
The zoo is notorious around the world for representing a bygone era when animal welfare was not a concern. Officials dismissed a petition led by activist Sinjira Apaitan to deny the license renewal, saying the animals there are fine.
“Since Pata Zoo takes good care of the ape. It is better to let her stay instead of investing a lot of money,” Niphon said, considering Bua Noi has about a decade left to live.
Although the forgotten Pata Zoo has recently drawn attention from the international press after Thai animal activists started an online petition, the most the officials can do is ensure the zoo takes care of the animals by forcing them to renew the operation permit annually instead of every five years, Bangkok Post reported.
A discouraged Sinjira said activists can only continue to spread the word and increase pressure to close the zoo.
“Bua Noi has revealed the hidden fact of the lack of a wildlife conservation act in Thailand,” Sinjira wrote. “We are waking up the Department of Natural Parks and the Thai government to look at the amendment of the law.”
She is hopeful next year will see action.
“The one and only high-rise Zoo in Thailand will end its 30 years’ legend on June 30, 2015, once (the department) agrees to amend the zoo operation law,” she said. “We need your support to spread out this campaign to gain more voices from overseas.”
The appointed National Legislative Assembly may take up “long-shelved draft legislation on animal welfare soon,” according to state media yesterday.
The story of Bua Noi has provoked the concerns of animal welfare in the Thai social media as Pata Zoo is not only the space where people feel animals need rescue, but also other zoos in Thailand, which operate under lax regulation.
Another campaign has been started by another group of activists to improve the living condition of the animals at the atrocious Sanam Chandra Zoo in Nakhon Pathom province, which has been criticised for misfeeding the animals and leaving them out in the rain by not providing shelter from the sun and elements.
Sanam Chandra Zoo. Photos: Wansuk Sri Chompoo