(all photos are from The ProPinoy Project)
Twitter was abuzz with a barrage of sudden attention on the state of the iconic Manila Zoo. I remember Manila Zoo with much fondness, having gone there as a kid, and being fascinated with my first up close and personal interaction with live animals. I have always been a huge animal lover for as long as I can remember, always devouring piles of books on the subject matter, so imagine the awe with which I viewed the animals for the first time, seeing elephants and giraffes and zebras and snakes and everything else I’d never thought I’d see up close. These were magical memories, I remember wanting to walk really fast, because I was so excited to see the next enclosure, but also wanting to move really slow, because I couldn’t get enough of whatever animal I was currently looking at. I even have fuzzy memories of the sea lion enclosure, which closed up quite early on, so the images I have in my head are hazy.
But I haven’t been to Manila Zoo in such a long time. The last visit I had was in 2000 or thereabouts. So imagine my shock to read a blog post someone sent me about how decrepit the zoo has become, and the pathetic state the animals’ health has deteriorated into. Animals that are dirty, diseased, injured, emaciated, the images were quite disturbing. Given how a lot of us pamper our domestic animals, its horrid to think that the majestic animals of Africa and Asia have practically become war prisoners in the hands of Pinoys.
It’s also disturbing how dirty the place has become, with most animals lying around refuse, like the urban homeless, even if there are supposedly people hired to maintain the upkeep of the enclosures. This can’t be good for the animals. Right after the photos spread, the controversy soon ignited, with Twitterati like Carlos Celdran and Jim Paredes sounding in on the topic. Soon, Manila Zoo was trending worldwide. PETA, which had always been anti-zoo from the get-go, also demanded the closure of the zoo. Celdran suggested it be made into a park instead.
Soon, Malacañang itself issued a statement, saying they’ll investigate, and urged the citizenry to pinch in, to help abet the fund shortages that may have caused the poor upkeep of the zoo. But many soon declared that the zoo is beyond repair, and that the best solution for everyone concerned, especially the animals, is to close the zoo down.
To be fair to zoos in general, I’ve been to some of the world’s best – Berlin Zoo, San Diego Zoo, among others. And in these zoos, the care of the animals are world-class. The enclosures are designed to emulate as close as possible, what the animals are accustomed to in the wild. They also have the best veterinarians and zoologists in their respective countries in charge of the facilities. The places are clean, the animals well fed by trained nutritionists, and some even have the most successful breeding programs. There are two ways to look at it. One argument goes, the animals is zoos act as ambassadors for their kin. Maybe if people see just how majestic, just how beautiful, just how incredible these animals are, they would put more effort and heart in aiding conservation of these animals. That unwilling as these animals are, it’s a small price to pay to aid the bigger cause, which is to save the rest which are still in the wild. The opposing argument of course, says animals are meant to be free. Birds should fly free, fish should swim unenclosed, lions should run unbridled in the savannah. There is no cause that could justify the cruelty of imprisoning an animal that was designed to be free. If the roles were switched, how would you feel if YOU were chosen, against your will and without your consent, to be jailed in an enclosure to be gawked at by animals, as the sacrificial lamb to represent your kind?
People will have opposing views on this one. But I think the arguments only hold water with the best zoos, because as far as Manila Zoo is concerned, I think this is a no-brainer. I agree that a fund drive will NOT really help much in the long run. Maybe at first there will be a wave of funds coming in based on the inflamed emotions of the public, but after 5 or 10 years, then what? Once the public attention has been swayed elsewhere, in a more “worthy” cause, what happens then? I really don’t think that the people in charge of the zoo are into the welfare of the animals. The decline didn’t happen overnight. I’m sure as the years rolled by, I’m sure some of them already saw the incumbent problems that were sending them on a down spiral. Somebody should’ve done something by then, maybe ask for help in opinion leaders, open a Facebook page or a Twitter account, or anything that might divert attention to their cause.
Of course the problem does not lie solely with the zoo officials. All of the garbage that we see in the zoo are put there by the visitors, not by the people working in the zoo. People throw trash wherever we want, many even into the enclosures. The problem goes deep and complicated. Unless we have the best people for the job doing the job, we shouldn’t be putting these animals through this ordeal. If the photos are any indication of our capability to maintain a zoo, then money is the least of our problems. If we have neither the funds nor the passion for this, then close the zoo down while the animals can still find a future somewhere else.