by Merritt Clifton
UBUD, GIANYAR–The Bali Zoo, featuring exhibits from which animals often “go walkabout,” might be described as emphasizing form over substance.
Occupying a six-acre forested ravine in a residential neighborhood in Singapadu, a suburb of Ubud, the Bali Zoo has been described by tourism media as a “hidden jewel”–and it is, at a glance.
A closer look reveals species-inappropriate exhibits, neglect of animal health, and potentially deadly accidents to visitors and neighbors lurking just around many of the bends of the zoo’s winding paths.
I discovered a long list of problems on two visits to the Bali Zoo in August 2008, and confirmed most of them on a revisit in January 2010. Many would by themselves be sufficient to close a U.S. zoo for violating the federal Animal Welfare Act, pending substantial improvement.
Bali Safari & Marine Park
The much larger Bali Safari & Marine Park, in Gianyar, offers an altogether safer, tamer atmosphere. The menagerie consists chiefly of elephants and big cats. The animals cannot even be seen from most of the park. Few animals are exhibited even in the animal areas. Shops and restaurants may outnumber the resident species.
Jansen Manansang, head of the family-controlled company that developed the Bali Safari & Marine Park, Taman Safari at Bogor, East Java, and the Taman Safari II park at Ragunan, West Java, was honored on August 14, 2008 in Jakarta by Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
But the Bali Safari & Marine Park elephant act I watched, in which an elephant stepped through a maze of audience volunteers lying flat on the stage, would not be permitted at an an accredited zoo in most of the world. Insurers and safety regulators would stop it if zoo association standards did not.
Bali Safari & Marine Park visitors for an added fee could be photographed cuddling lions, tigers, and orangutans, at least some of whom were drugged to stupefaction–as I witnessed and documented for seven hours on August 31, 2008. The photo concessions were still in operation in January 2010, but during that visit were closed due to rain, preventing me from observing their operations for long enough to see whether the animals were drugged.
Asia Animal Protection Network founder John Wedderburn, M.D., had already posted on the AAPN “ZooPage” that “the general good impression” that the park presents “is spoiled by the photography areas where you can have your picture taken with a drugged lion or tiger cub lying on a table.”
Wedderburn had earlier noted “various big cats chained to a bench for long periods so that visitors can have their photographs taken sitting beside them” at Taman Safari in Bogor, West Java, owned and built by the same investors.
Many photos posted to web sites by previous visitors to the Bali Safari & Marine Park and Taman Safari appeared to confirm Wedderburn’s allegations.
Zoo Association rules
But Jansen Manansang, who heads the family-controlled company that developed the Bali Safari & Marine Park, Taman Safari, and the Taman Safari II park, is also president of the South East Asian Zoo Association.
The South East Asian Zoo Association is a member of the World Association of Zoos & Aquaria. Both associations’ logos appear on the Bali Safari & Marine Park and Taman Safari web site front pages.
Drugging animals for photography and encouraging the public to handle animals “is contrary to the World Association of Zoos & Aquaria ethics and welfare policy,” affirmed North Carolina Zoo director David Jones, who is vice chair of the WAZA ethics and welfare committee.
Jansen Manansang was a member of the WAZA working group that in October 2006 produced a document headlined “The Global Zoo Community takes up Global Zoo Standards through WAZA.”
The 21-page document opened with a seven-point “Crux of the issue” statement, mentioning that “a bad zoo conveys unfortunate subliminal messages,” and expressing concern about “negative impacts on the safety of animals, public, and staff.”
Who knew what, when?
This all raised two questions preceding my visit to the Bali Safari & Marine Park. First, are the Manansang-directed zoos actually drugging and/or chaining animals for photography? Second, if this is happening, does the Manansang family know about it?
I arrived at the Bali Safari & Marine Park soon after it opened in the morning. A lion cub photo concession was already attracting customers. The lion cub offered for the customers to pose with was sedated to the point of unconsciousness. He remained unconscious until about an hour before the concession closed in early afternoon. He then began attempting to move and between frequent bouts of dry heaves appeared to be trying to find something to nurse from– a hint that he had only recently been weaned, if weaned at all.
Tony Greenwood, owner of the Peel Zoo in Australia, joined me in observing the lion cub about an hour after I started. Greenwood, also involved in developing and attempting to improve the Bali Zoo, had business at the Bali Safari & Marine Park with general manager Esther Manansang, daughter of Jansen Manansang. Esther Manansang’s uncles Frans Manansang and Tony Sumampau were Jansen Manansang’s partners in founding all three of the zoos that their family owns.
Esther Manansang boasted to media when the Bali Safari & Marine Park opened that “There will be no honking car horns or feeding animals” there, but apparently said nothing about drugging animals for photos.
While I continued watching the cub, also keeping an eye on two locations at which keepers sold visitors greens to feed elephants, Greenwood met with Esther Manansang.
After five hours the lion cub had almost continuous dry heaves, and was carried to an off-exhibit area over an attendant’s shoulder, past a much smaller and younger tiger cub who had been offered for photography for nearly as long. The tiger cub, if drugged, was less obviously so. The tiger cub was taken off exhibit soon afterward.
Greenwood emerged from his meeting with Esther Manansang stating that she had confirmed that the lion cub was sedated with a half-and-half blend of Ketamine and Xylazine (sold as Rompazine).
Greenwood later posted a similar summary of his discussion with Esther Manansang on the Asia Dana Forum, a web site about Asian charities and travel, maintained by “Anada,” one of the investors Greenwood introduced to the Bali Zoo.
Esther Manansang did not respond to an e-mail I sent asking how many lion and tiger cubs are used for photo concessions, how often they are drugged, and what becomes of them when they mature.
Complained to WAZA
I forwarded my findings, and those of Greenwood, to both David Jones and the WAZA secretariat in Liebefeld, Switzerland, along with seven photos from individual visitors’ web sites and links to tourism web sites that illustrate and describe the Bafi Safari & Marine Park photo concession practices.
“The WAZA office have tried to make contact with Manansang,” Jones reported on September 19, 2008, “but have had no response. It appears that this is not for the first time [that similar complaints were made]. Apparently something similar was reported a while back and they asked him about it then, with no response.”
Jones promised that he would, “acting on behalf of the welfare and ethics committee, formally ask for an explanation, and we will do that next week,” he pledged, “if there is no response to the Swiss office.”
Sabine Gyger of the WAZA secretariat had already asked Jansen Manansang to “Please look into the matter and respond.”
Taman Safari project consultant Sherman T. Wong on September 25, 2008 referred the drugging issue to South East Asian Zoo Association animal ethics & welfare committee chair G. Agoramoorthy.
E-mailed Agoramoorthy on September 28, 2008, “Animal shows and photography are allowed in SEAZA member zoos if they do not violate welfare and ethical standards. The SEAZA Ethics and Welfare Committee carried out assessment of all three Taman Safari Indonesia parks owned by Jansen [Manansang], and did not see any evidence regarding sedating animals for photography,” but Agoramoorthy did not say when this assessment was done. Neither did he mention the many web site references to the practice.
“I discussed [the drugging] with Esther [Manansang]. She had no recollection of speaking to anyone regarding sedating animals for photography,” Agoramoorthy said.
Responded Greenwood, “The daughter cannot remember talking to me? I have no need to lie and the animals tell the tale any way. We have been in this industry all our lives. We are not silly. You were with me when we videotaped the animals in question This practice is widely known by many visitors. It is no surprise at all.”
The WAZA 2008 annual meeting was held in October in Adelaide, Australia. Jansen Manansang was expected to attend.
“I am going to suggest that it might be better for him to come to the meeting having stopped the practice, rather than it become an issue in Adelaide,” Jones told me. “One way or another,” Jones promised, “I will get it looked into and hopefully stopped.”
WAZA peer pressure may have influenced the direction of the Bali Safari & Marine Park–or maybe not.
The Bali Zoo, meanwhile, did not belong to either WAZA or the South East Asian Zoo Association.
And Tony Greenwood, after two years of trying to lead founder Anak Agung Gede Putra by example, was by August 2008 openly running out of patience.
Tony and Narelle Greenwood discovered the Bali Zoo in November 2006. Attendence had collapsed since the terrorist attacks on Bali tourism facilities of 2002 and 2005. With 75 staff to pay and 350 animals to feed, the Bali Zoo was $500,000 in debt.
The Greenwoods bailed the Bali Zoo out financially and began rebuilding, repairing, and re-organizing the animal exhibits, but soon encountered resistance.
For example, Anak Agung Gede Putra, who shares the name of the longtime hereditary rulers of the community, was in early September 2008 negotiating the acquisition of 14 elephants. He hoped to start an elephant trek around the grounds, to compete with the elephant trek offered by the vastly larger Bali Safari & Marine Park. Greenwood wondered where Anak Agung Gede Putra could even find room for 14 elephants to stand. Unused space at the Bali Zoo is chiefly on steep slopes and seasonal floodplain, potentially suitable for expanding existing exhibits, but not for year-round elephant housing.
Seeking expert backup for his recommendations, Greenwood invited attendees at the August 2008 Asia for Animals conference held in Bali to tour the zoo and express their views to Anak Agung Gede Putra.
Among the Asia for Animals visitors who are known for acumen about zoo management standards and practices were ZooCheck Canada founder Rob Laidlaw; Indian Zoo Inquiry Report author Shubhobroto Ghosh; and Amy Corrigan and Louis Ng of the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society in Singapore. Corrigan and Ng are noted for their campaign seeking to relocate the Singapore Zoo’s two lethargic polar bears, both green with algae.
The findings of the Asia for Animals visitors, many of them posted later to the Asian Animal Protection Network discussion group, focused on small and obsolescent enclosures.
Some of the birds in the entry corridor were caged so closely that they could barely spread their wings. The lion and tiger exhibits had already been enlarged, but are not yet fully used by the animals, especially the lions, who continue to pace in the dimensions of their former habitat.
Cattle in a cess pool
Greenwood had rearranged the monkey and gibbon exhibits to give the primates space more suited to their needs — but Anak Agung Gede Putra or some of his staff moved most of them back to their former quarters.
The Bali Zoo bear pit harked back to the Middle Ages, when similar pits were built near marketplaces throughout Europe.
Passing animals around for visitors to pet and handle, including an endangered slow loris, would not meet the care standards of most zoo associations and the legal requirements of many nations.
Two Javan cattle stood in a reeking pond of their own diluted excrement, near the zoo restaurant, with no access to clean running water or food. Water pipes run along the back wall of their enclosure. Introducing clean running water would take a plumber just a couple of hours.
But there were less obvious failures of management, as I verified on a re-visit with Greenwood two days after the Asia for Animals group visit.
A gate to the crocodile and pygmy hippo pond was open on both visits, with no visible lock. Several primate cages were left unlocked. The inmates of one cage appeared to know how to unhook a lock left open and escape, vocally objecting when Greenwood snapped the lock shut.
Deer of several species, including some with fully developed horns, on both visits and in January 2010 hopped casually in and out of their enclosures in a petting area to mingle with visitors.
The tiger exhibit was separated from dense housing just a few feet away by a one-brick-width wall that a tiger might be able to knock down with a charge. Greenwood said that the smaller of the two tigers in the exhibit, a white female, once leaped out of the exhibit to a visitor observation platform. Had she turned right, she could have jumped down into the village. Instead she turned left, into the zoo grounds, where she was shot with a tranquilizer dart and returned to the exhibit.
Behind the scenes
The worst, however, was behind the scenes, in the off-exhibit area.
A barren concrete cell housed two lion cubs, without food or water. The neighboring cell housed a lion cub with a large and evidently infected head wound. A variety of caged birds nearby also lacked food and water.
Fetching water for first the lion cubs and then the birds, Greenwood explained that the local police and wildlife law enforcement authorities bring to the zoo any wildlife they confiscate in their work. Often they leave animals in the off-exhibit areas to be discovered hours later by staff, who may enter to attend the ponies stabled there between use at a pony-ride concession, or to burn garbage. He believed that the lion cubs were born at the Bali Zoo, but that the birds were probably confiscated from alleged traffickers — with whom they may have been no worse off.
Gamecocks & dead slow loris
The off-exhibit area also housed seven gamecocks in the baskets in which they are typically displayed and taken to cockfights. Greenwood said the gamecocks belonged to Anak Agung Gede Putra himself, and were formerly exhibited near the Bali Zoo entrance. Greenwood had pressured Anak Agung Gede Putra to disassociate himself and the zoo from cockfighting, he said. This, Greenwood added, was the first that he had seen of the gamecocks since then.
Behind the gamecocks was a lumber pile. Atop the lumber pile, clinging to a board in apparent rigor mortis, recognized immediately by Greenwood’s children, was the slow loris who had been passed around for Asia for Animals conference visitors to handle.
None of the Bali Zoo staff admitted any knowledge that the slow loris had died. Several told conflicting stories about where he was.
Aware that a slow loris, as a fellow primate, may carry any number of diseases communicable to humans, I joined Greenwood in spending the next several hours trying to find a veterinarian capable of performing a necropsy. The slow loris meanwhile passed well beyond rigor mortis. By then, Greenwood believed from his own zookeeping experience, the odor of the remains indicated that the cause of death was salmonellosis. The slow loris might have become fatally ill from being handled by visitors who had previously touched some of the zoo reptiles.