Islamic zoos & Chinese animals
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2002:
DEN HAGUE, JAKARTA, KABUL, AMMAN, LAS VEGAS– Mohammed,
reputedly fond of cats, might have given his special blessing to a
cat who found herself locked inside a minaret at a mosque in Den
Hague, The Netherlands, on July 26 after Friday prayers. The cat
summoned help by somehow switching on the minaret sound system and
amplifying her meows along with Turkish music throughout the downtown
area, the newspaper Algemeen Dagblad reported. Her people
recognized her voice and called the police, but the key to the
minaret was not found until Sunday.
The episode demonstrated that even on the rare occasions when
animals’ distress is broadcast from on high, and all are agreed that
relief is overdue, mustering an effective response can still be
Determined efforts are underway in many different parts of
the Islamic world, with international help, to bring the zoos and
educational programs that were considered the best of their time for
more than 400 years back to their former glory.
“Can zoos of the Islamic world live up to the legacy of Akbar
the Great?”, ANIMAL PEOPLE asked in a June 2002 progress report,
referring to the 16th century Mogul emperor of India whose zoos’
gateway inscriptions admonished, “Meet your brothers. Take them to
your hearts, and respect them.”
Malaysian minister for science, technology, and development
Seri Law Hieng Ding moved in that direction on July 3, issuing
animal care and safety guidelines to take immediate effect at all 44
public and private animal exhibition sites in the nation.
Law told Sim Leoi Leoi of the Malaysia Star that the
guidelines were “drawn up following a series of meetings and
consultations with the various zoos and with the Malaysian
Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums. Some zoos are managed
very well,” Law continued, “but there are some zoo operators whose
policies and procedures lead to cruel treatment of their animals,”
or to health and safety risks to visitors.
Law suggested that better zoos would mean more visitors.
That lesson was learned in the U.S. nearly 30 years ago, and leading
zoos discovered that borrowing money to improve animal exhibits
rapidly pays for itself, and that upgrading at least one major
exhibit per year is not only best for the animals but best for
income, as more people come, stay longer, buy more from the
concessionaires, and make more return visits.
Zoos in the poorer parts of the world have been cautious
about following the U.S. model, favoring the older and less costly
approach of trying to lure more visitors by obtaining ever more
The Ragunan Zoo in South Jakarta, Indonesia, on July 8
received four male gorillas from the Howletts & Port Lymphne Animal
Park in Kent, England. Food and care for the gorillas was
guaranteed for three years by the Gibbon Foundation, headed by
renowned orangutan rehabilitator Willy Smits. Originally set for
2001, the transfer was delayed after members of the zoo
administration allegedly tried to bill the city for food costs
already paid by the Gibbon Foundation.
The gorillas arrived just one day after The Jakarta Post
reported that “Dozens of elephants at the Elephant Training Center in
the Way Kambas Nature Reserve, East Lampung, are in danger because
their trainers are unable to provide them with sufficient food.
Several years ago, a number of elephants at the center died because
of insufficient food. Making the situation worse, some of the
elephant trainers have not received their full salaries, and are
threatening to quit.”
Diversions of funding were suspected. Indonesia has
repeatedly been identified by economic analysts as the major nation
most hindered by corruption–but among other recent hints of growing
public interest in reducing corruption on every front, the
organization Animal Conservation for Life on July 4 distributed to
news media a printed report and accompanying video called Flying
Without Wings, documenting the involvement of Indonesian naval
officers in the illegal parrot trade. Made in May 2001, the video
showed “hundreds of parrots on board the warship Teluk Manado #537,”
wrote Rita A. Widiadana of The Jakarta Post. The year-long Animal
Conservation for Life probe was funded by the Royal SPCA.
The Kabul Zoo, in the capital of Afghanistan, was built by
the Koln Zoo in Germany in a deliberate effort to evoke the
atmosphere of the great Islamic zoos, combined with modern
European-style veterinary facilities, and was meant to be a model
for zoos throughout Asia. The idea was to encourage public
appreciation of native wildlife by exhibiting rare Afghan species.
The educational mission of the zoo was to include discouraging
poaching and wildlife trafficking, encouraging better care of work
animals, training veterinarians, and promoting anti-rabies
vaccination of dogs and cats.
Twenty years of civil war killed most of the 400-plus Kabul
Zoo animals, wrecked the site, and by the early 1990s had forced
the Koln Zoo to withdraw from active involvement. The idea remained
alive, however, and has been pursued on a smaller scale by German
donors elsewhere in the region.
The German Agency for Technical Cooperation, for instance,
headed by Jasmin Sadoun, on July 10 granted 84,000 euros to the
Humane Centre for Animal Welfare in Amman, Jordan, directed by
Margaret Ledger. According to Jumana Heresh of The Jordan Times,
the funding is to help Ledger expand her humane education program by
forming animal care clubs in schools, and starting extra-curricular
activities such as guided nature walks and a volunteer program at the
HCAW clinic and shelter.
Eventually, Heresh indicated, Ledger hopes to add
in-service training to improve the skills of local veterinarians.
Kabul & China
The grand ambitions for the Kabul Zoo, meanwhile, were
never entirely forgotten, as the long unpaid zookeepers reportedly
continued doing some wildlife rehabilitation and rescue and public
education, as best they could, throughout the six years of Taliban
rule. Despite the devastation and deprivation felt throughout the
nation, Afghans themselves repeatedly told foreign correspondents
during the war against the Taliban that restoring the zoo would be a
North Carolina Zoo director and Brooke Hospital for Animals
board chair David Jones raised $530,000 from the international zoo
community to get the work started. World Society for the Protection
of Animals program director John Walsh led an advance team to assist
the surviving animals in January 2002, and U.S. and European zoos
have subsequently sent rotating teams of experts to keep the work
The biggest problem the Kabul Zoo has now is that the China
Wildlife Conservation Association, eager to help, on July 12
donated two three-year-old African lions from the Beijing Badaling
Safari World to replace Marjan, the symbol of Afghan hardihood who
survived the two decades of fighting by just a few days.
In addition, the CWCA reportedly promised Abdul Basir Hotak,
the senior Afghan diplomat in China, that the Badaling Safari World
would send along a wolf, two deer, several bears, and a variety of
wild pigs, chickens, and peacocks, plus a keeper to stay with them
for a month as they adjust to their new surroundings–all to arrive
by air and rail in early August, Hotak proudly announced.
“The most important thing is that Kabul is ready to receive
the animals,” Hotak said. “Preparations have been made to restore
electricity and water, and to repair the cages. Everything is
ready,” Hotak insisted to Agence France-Presse.
“This is not welcome news,” contradicted Jones. “We have
made some progress in providing properly for the animals who have
survived the war, but the Kabul Zoo is in no condition to take on
additional animals. It is still not easy for the staff to provide
for the few animals they have, and to bring in more now would simply
complicate and delay the rehabilitation efforts. We hope to persuade
both the Afghan and Chinese authorities,” Jones said, “to delay
this generous gift until the restoration of the Kabul Zoo is
complete. There is nothing wrong with the offer, but it is the
wrong time to put these animals in place.”
Las Vegas & China
It was an awkward issue for Jones, and an awkward time for
the American Zoo Association, whose spokesperson Jane Ballentyne
distributed Jones’ remarks to media just one day before Washington
Post staff writer Eric Planin disclosed that the Mandalay Bay Resort,
of Las Vegas, was working in cooperation with the AZA to acquire a
pair of panda bears from China.
Mandalay Bay in 2001 sent Sig Rogich, a public relations
consultant and former U.S. ambassador to Iceland, to China “to
confer with government officials and submit a letter of intent,
declaring the resort’s interest in acquiring two pandas,” Planin
“While the Chinese have routinely charged zoos $10 million
for the use of two pandas over 10 years,” Planin continued,
“Mandalay Bay officials have strongly hinted that a panda exhibit in
Las Vegas might generate as much as $50 million a year, and that
they were prepared to give all of it to China.”
Said AZA executive director Sydney J. Butler, “One might
initially question, as I did, what a Las Vegas casino has to do
with conservation, but I found the Mandalay Bay folks to be
committed and willing to do what is professionally necessary.”
The proposed panda exhibit would be managed by the Vancouver
Aquarium, whose personnel already manage the two-year-old Shark Reef
aquarium at Mandalay Bay.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service assistant director for
international affairs and three staff members examined the proposal
and the panda exhibit site in June, Planin said.
Responded World Wildlife Fund vice president for species
conservation Ginette Hemley, “At first blush, I find it hard to
imagine how housing pandas under the same roof with showgirls and
blackjack tables furthers panda conservation. It smacks of
commercial exploitation to an extreme.”
The World Wildlife Fund emblem is a panda, and WWF funds
panda breeding and conservation projects within China.