Fidelis E. Satriastanti
The deplorable conditions at the Surabaya Zoo are a direct result of the municipal administration’s refusal to appoint a professional management team, a senior government official said.
Darori, the director general of forest protection and nature conservation at the Forestry Ministry, said on Wednesday that the zoo, one of the oldest in the country, had been under scrutiny since 2008 because of internal spats.
In the years since, a long list of animals have died there or gone missing, prompting the ministry last year to throw out the management and bring in a caretaker team led by Tony Sumampouw, from Bogor’s Taman Safari Park.
“The zoo’s condition is an eyesore,” Darori said.
“The enclosures are badly managed. It’s overpopulated and filthy. Nearly 70 percent of the animals are sick, so the deaths don’t come as a surprise to me.”
The ministry, he said, could have closed the operation down long ago and spared the animals more misery by moving them to other zoos.
“We could just take the animals back. They don’t belong to the local administration, they belong to the state,” Darori said.
“Our only interest in the matter is the well-being of the animals, but the mayor and people of Surabaya want the zoo to stay.”
He said that while the ministry was willing to give the city authorities a chance, the problem was that they were squandering it by refusing to set up a new management team.
First, Darori said, the city reneged on an agreement with the ministry to appoint a third-party team of professionals to manage the zoo. Instead, they wanted to set up a municipal-owned body, or BUMD, to manage it.
“We said fine, we’ll follow your idea,” Darori said.
“We then suggested that local officials be included on the caretaker team so that they could learn from ministry officials and experts about zoo management. That way, once the BUMD took over the management, the transition would be smooth and they could hit the ground running.”
But once again the Surabaya administration threw up an obstacle, this time claiming that city officials were not allowed to serve in a BUMD.
“It’s too weird. We respect their decision to keep the zoo open, but this is just too weird,” Darori said.
“If they don’t want the animals, there are plenty of other zoos waiting in line, including in Jakarta and Singapore.”
For its part, the city says it would rather set up a municipal technical unit, or UPTD, to run the zoo. A UPTD could be set up under the mayor’s authorization, whereas a BUMD must be approved by the City Council.
Nanik Chaerany, a spokeswoman for the administration, said the city was in the midst of setting up the BUMD.
“We haven’t encountered any obstacles in the process, but it’s a substantial issue that also encompasses investment,” she said.
“A UPTD would be faster, but instead the ministry is prolonging the caretaker team’s work.”
However, Darori pointed out that funding from a UPTD would have to come from the city budget, which would take months to approve. The zoo, he warned, would run out of food for the animals long before that happened.
Darori said that if the city was serious about keeping the zoo, it would have to be financially committed to it for at least the next 25 years.
“They’re going to need at least Rp 50 billion [$5.5 million], otherwise they’ll have to build the enclosures from bamboo,” he said.
The zoo came under scrutiny last week following the death of its last remaining giraffe. The animal was found to have ingested 20 kilograms of plastic trash, most likely from litter thrown into its enclosure, Tony said.
On Tuesday, Tony urged the city to finalize the appointment of a new zoo management immediately. He also warned against setting up a UPTD, saying there would be severe delays in the disbursement of funding through such a body.