Uproar over plight of sun bears at Bandung Zoo

With its protruding rib bones, the sun bear Kardit looked nothing like its brawny cousin with thick, black fur printed on the entrance ticket of Bandung Zoo, which has been home to it and 10 other sun bears for many years.
ST VIDEO: ARLINA ARSHAD
The sorry state of the sun bears, which have been seen seemingly begging for food and with protruding bones (above and right), has prompted wildlife activists to demand that the zoo be shut down.
The sorry state of the sun bears, which have been seen seemingly begging for food and with protruding bones (above), has prompted wildlife activists to demand that the zoo be shut down.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
The sorry state of the sun bears, which have been seen seemingly begging for food and with protruding bones (above and right), has prompted wildlife activists to demand that the zoo be shut down.
The sorry state of the sun bears, which have been seen seemingly begging for food and with protruding bones (above), has prompted wildlife activists to demand that the zoo be shut down.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Kardit stood on its hind legs, paws outstretched, as it waited for visitors to throw it peanuts, biscuits and packets of soft drinks.

With its protruding rib bones, the 20-year-old sun bear looked nothing like its brawny cousin with thick, black fur printed on the entrance ticket of Bandung Zoo, which has been home to it and 10 other sun bears for many years.

When The Straits Times visited the zoo in West Java province last week, they restlessly paced in two crammed, concrete enclosures and seemed to beg for food. One was eating its own faeces.

"The bears seemed to treat every peanut thrown as a main meal, not a snack. They looked so pitiful, are they starving?" student Ilya Sari, 17, said. "I love animals. I had come here to enjoy myself but instead I'm sad now."

The case has caught media attention after a series of videos of the malnourished bears were posted on YouTube by Indonesia-based Scorpion Wildlife Trade Monitoring Group, most recently on Jan 10. The group's online petition demanding that the zoo be shut down has so far attracted nearly 23,000 supporters.

https://youtu.be/qthUchk-tn8?list=PLnK3VE4BKduMiJMsAa4_-KErl9DcxCU5N

PITIFUL SIGHT

The bears seemed to treat every peanut thrown as a main meal, not a snack. They looked so pitiful, are they starving?

STUDENT ILYA SARI, on the bears at Bandung Zoo begging for food.

"There's nothing natural about bears begging for food when they are hungry. We want them to be rehabilitated and released into the wild," Scorpion senior investigator Marison Guciano said of the bears, which are native to South-east Asia and classified as "vulnerable" under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

The zoo's management, Bandung officials and even the Ministry of the Environment and Forestry have since responded to the strong criticisms.

After all, this was not the first case of alleged animal mistreatment at the 14ha zoo, which has 890 animals from 123 species on display. A 34-year-old Sumatran elephant named Yani died there last May after being ill for a week without receiving proper medical treatment.

Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said on Friday that she had sent a team to give the bears a "thorough medical examination", check their living conditions and collect more information before she holds a meeting today to decide on further action.

Bandung Mayor Ridwan Kamil said the zoo - which is privately managed by Margasatwa Tamansari Foundation - is under the ministry's purview and that the city government has been urging that the ministry take "tougher action".

The problems at the Bandung Zoo have cast a spotlight on the lack of animal welfare in many of the 60-odd zoos across Indonesia.

The Surabaya Zoo has been dubbed the "zoo of death" after a giraffe found with 20kg of plastic in its stomach died in 2012, and a rare Sumatran tiger succumbed to malnutrition and illness two years later.

Animal experts and activists say ticket prices as low as 4,000 rupiah (40 Singapore cents) are not enough to cover the costs of operating the zoos.

A lack of education has meant visitors tend to feed the animals and throw rubbish into their cages, making them sick.

West Java Natural Resources Conservation Agency chief Sustyo Iriyono told The Straits Times that Kardit had been diagnosed with a "worm infection" last year and its recovery process is being monitored. "But the other 10 bears were all healthy," he said.

Zoo spokesman Sudaryo rejected claims of ill-treatment, saying the bears were "fed enough", but declined to disclose the size of the portions the animals are fed or the weight of the bears. He also claimed the diet of the animals was "in line with zoo standards" elsewhere.

He added that the zoo has been taking steps to improve the living conditions of the animals following the death of the elephant last year.

But many visitors are not convinced it is doing enough.

Housewife Nani Mardiyanti, 20, said the "animals were too quiet" and cafe worker Dedi Sudrajat, 38, said he was "shocked and angry" to see three elephants straining at their chains to reach the patches of sparse grass and water hole.

"Poor things were not able to eat or drink. Why chain them when they should be able to roam freely? This one, so thin you could see his bones," said Mr Dedi, pointing to an elephant shuffling in distress.

VIDEO

Animals in Bandung Zoo tug at the heartstrings of visitors.

http://str.sg/4mJc

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2017, with the headline 'Uproar over plight of sun bears at Bandung Zoo'. Print Edition | Subscribe