Can zoos of the Islamic world live up to the legacy of Akbar the Great?
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2002:
KABUL, CAIRO, BAGHDAD, JAKARTA, KUALA LUMPUR–Watching
news video clips about the Kabul Zoo relief effort last winter,
zoogoers and animal lovers throughout the Islamic world noted the
conditions with increasing embarrassment.
As battle-weary as the Kabul Zoo animals were, and as
urgently as Donatello the bear with the infected nose and Marjan the
now deceased lion needed help, their quality of life looked good in
contrast to the conditions at some zoos in other Islamic nations.
The result was an outburst of spring exposes of substandard
zoos, reinforcing critical reports by the World Society for the
Protection of Animals, the Born Free Foundation, and the
International Fund for Animal Welfare–and by local animal advocates
who have often complained for decades.
Whether improvements will follow remains to be seen. But
there is rising awareness that Islamic-run zoos were considered the
best in the world for more than 400 years.
“In the 16th century,” explained zoo historian and designer
David Hancocks in his 2001 book A Different Nature, “the Mogul
emperor Akbar the Great established zoos in various Indian cities
which far surpassed in quality and size anything in Europe. Unlike
the cramped European menageries, Akbar’s zoos provided spacious
enclosures and cages, built in large reserves. Each had a resident
doctor, and Akbar encouraged careful study of animals. His zoos
were open to the public. At the entrance to each he posted a
message: “Meet your brothers. Take them to your hearts, and
The Giza Zoo in Cairo, Egypt, opened in 1891, and the
Kabul Zoo, opened in 1971, were designed with Akbar’s ideas in
mind. The Kabul Zoo was later severely damaged by 20 years of armed
conflict. The Giza Zoo has been hurt chiefly by “lack of vision,”
Cairo resident and London Zoological Society fellow Richard Hoath
recently told Jasper Mortimer of Associated Press. Founding director
Stanley Flower of Britain developed the Giza Zoo in the former royal
gardens. Stocked with animals from the royal collection, it “was a
leader in the development of innovative enclosure design,” according
to the Encyclopedia of the World’s Zoos.
But the admission fee was never increased from the current
equivalent of about three cents. By 1991, the Giza Zoo drew more
than six million visitors per year, twice as many as the Bronx Zoo,
to view 20,000 animals of 350 species. Yet it barely acquired a
refrigerated pond for two polar bears and an education center before
reaching its centennial. New York Times correspondent William E.
Schmidt described an orangutan hiding from peanut-throwing visitors,
children climbing over barriers to reach into cages, and keepers
soliciting bribes for the chance to hold a lion cub, pet a tiger,
or feed a hippopotamus.
Current director Moustafa Awad, hired in 1996, made some
improvements. But five years after the Born Free Foundation and IFAW
issued their first public criticisms of the animal care, Mortimer
found, the problems Schmidt described are essentially unchanged.
Wrote Mortimer, “A clue to what the animals think comes from
a lioness pacing at the back of her cage. Her tiny cub is crying
weakly from a dark cell and trying to wriggle through an iron gate.
The keeper says he can let the cub join her mother to suckle only
twice a day, because he has no chicken wire to stop the cub from
squeezing between the bars of the cage. But, a short walk away,
chicken wire lines the cage of two pumas. The lioness licks
rainwater from the cracked concrete floor because there is no water
in her basin. The keeper says he will not give her water until she
has eaten, lest she might vomit. British vet John Knight, who has
studied the Giza Zoo, says there is no reason to deprive her.”
Mortimer described elephants kept shackled to the same
locations all day every day, where keepers allow visitors to feed
them treats for tips, and “oryx and Barbary sheep who walk like
big-footed circus clowns, their overgrown hooves curling up like
Turkish slippers. Awad said,” wrote Mortimer, that “the zoo is
short of the anesthesia needed to sedate the animals while their
hooves are trimmed.”
Entry to the 11-acre Baghdad Zoo, founded in 1973, costs
only the equivalent of 2.5 cents. “With Iraq under United Nations
sanctions since 1990 after invading Kuwait,” Ezzedin Said wrote for
Agence France Presse in May, “the zoo is not only short of proper
food, but also of vaccines and medicines.”
The collection includes six lions, two tigers, six monkeys,
mountain goats, camels, birds of prey, ponies, and pigs.
“We started breeding pigs in 1996 to feed the cats when the
price of donkeys soared, director Adel Salman Mussa said. He
complained that the zoo could not afford to feed the cats beef, but
donkeys and pigs are more closely related than cattle to the zebras
and warthogs whom lions hunt in the wild.
A report on the 10 most prominent Indonesian zoos, released
in March 2002 by WSPA and the Indonesian group Animal Conservation
for Life, found that 99% of the enclosures “failed to accommodate
the basic biological and behavioral needs of the animals”; 68% were
left filthy for prolonged intervals; and “around half” of the
animals were not given adequate water.
Eight of the 10 zoos offered trained animal shows, “with
orangutans, bears, and otters beaten and starved to make them
perform,” most allowed visitors to give the animals inappropriate
treats, and about half of the animals displayed stereotypical
All 10 zoos visited belong to the South East Asian Zoos
Association, formed to “develop and maintain high standards of
animal displays and welfare.”
Commented Zoocheck Canada founder and WSPA representative Rob
Laidlaw to BBC environment correspondent Alex Kirby, “Indonesia is
home to some of the worst zoos in the world today,” among which
Laidlaw and the other report authors singled out the Perancak Tourist
Park in Bali as the worst, “beyond rehabilitation” and in need of
Animal Conservation for Life member Purwo Kuncoro told Claire
Harvey of the Jakarta Post that many of the Perancak Tourist Park
animals “have been so badly neglected that many cannot be saved.
They would have to be euthanized.”
Harvey affirmed the conditions for herself in an April visit
with Purwo and fellow Animal Conservation for Life member Wita
Wahyudi. Harvey described a starving boar, a cassowary in a cage
too small for her, and crocociles who were apparently fed on dog
meat. The zoo managers and Indonesian forestry department, which
has regulatory authority over wildlife, claimed to have no contact
information for owner Murah Hardono.
“While funding is certainly a problem in many Indonesian
zoos,” said Laidlaw in a written statement, “I do not believe it is
a primary cause of the grossly substandard conditions we encountered.
Building new exhibits and restructuring entire zoos can be expensive,
but tremendous improvements in animal husbandry, housing, and
welfare can still be achieved when resources are lacking. This is
often accomplished through low-tech enclosure modifications, changes
to husbandry protocols, and changes to zoo management policies and
Laidlaw went on to give numerous specific examples of
improvements that could be made without spending any money at all.
Many Indonesian zookeepers illegally sell animals to
supplement their wages, WSPA and Animal Conservation for Life
accused. The inspectors said they were offered chances to buy a bear
cub, several African lions, and a tiger skin.
“One zookeeper told the police he had sold animals to a
number of influential people including the governor of Jakarta, who
immediately denied the allegation,” wrote Rita A. Widiadana of the
“It is very hard to fight against the illegal trade, since
it is reported to involve generals, prominent businessmen, and
high-ranking officials,” Purwo told Widiadana.
Even as she spoke, the International Primate Protection
League fingered an alleged fly-by-night firm called Jubreel B.
Odukoya & Associates, “located in Penang, Malaysia, headed by a
Nigerian national” for soliciting purchasers for four infant
gorillas, at $1.6 million; four baby chimpanzees at $50,000 each;
and four baby mandrills at $125,000 each.
“All of these species are fully protected by the Convention
on International Trade in Endangered Species,” IPPL founder Shirley
In January 2001, soon after Odukoya faxed out his price
list, the Taiping Zoo in northern Perak state, Malaysia, acquired
four baby gorillas from Nigeria. Taiping Zoo director Kevin Lazarus
told Agence France-Presse that the gorillas were obtained in trade
for tigers, sun bears, and other species native to Malaysia, who
are to be sent to a Nigerian zoo believed to be the newly founded zoo
in Abuja, the Nigerian capital city since 1991.
“It is our understanding that the export of the animals is
supposed to have involved the new Abuja zoo, with claims of captive
birth at this facility possibly having been made,” McGreal said.
“The Abuja zoo has no gorillas, and therefore, no gorilla births.
This kind of transaction, involving wild-caught gorillas procured by
the shooting of their mothers and protective adults in their group is
what CITES was designed to prevent,” McGreal charged.
Lazarus insisted that there was no wrong-doing.
In Sumpitan, Malaysia, investors meanwhile proceeded with
plans to open a deer park which will sell venison to the public and
lease fawns “to selected young entrepreneurs to enable them to dabble
in the exotic meat trade,” reported Raslan Baharom of the Malaysia
Mazwin Nik Anis and Lam Li of the same paper followed the
search for a seven-year-old panther, transferred from the Malacca
Zoo to the Johor Zoo on May 7, who on May 25 jumped a fence and
escaped into the surrounding suburbs.