Indonesia's Surabaya Zoo, known as a “death house for animals,” continues to receive international attention as journalists visit the zoo and report back about animals dropping dead of malnourishment daily, including endangered Sumatra tigers, birds and large animals crammed into tiny cages, and other atrocities— even after the zoo claimed to be cleaning up its act.
A journalist from the Daily Mail reported on a recent visit to the zoo, deemed the worst in the world, in which he documented over 150 pelicans crammed together in a cage that didn’t even allow them to freely spread their wings.
When a giraffe died -- one of over fifty animals to perish in the past three months -- the zoo simply propped up its skeleton for visitors to observe in the dead animal's former enclosure.
Animals at Surabaya Zoo regularly die of malnourishment and disease well ahead of their average lifespans in captivity.
“Sitting alone is another orangutan. I cannot believe what I see – she is chewing on the yellow top of a marker pen someone has thrown at her. She pushes it forward between her lips, then sucks it back into her mouth. I fear she will soon swallow it. Beside her, rats scurry in and out of holes in an embankment,” writes reporter Richard Shears.
The animals are used as pawns in local political conflicts. One of the zoo’s Sumatran tigresses, Melani, was on the brink of death, the result of years of eating toxic meat laced with formaldehyde. Surayaba staff tried to save Melani by changing to a new meat supplier.
"We also work to improve the quality of food and when the meats arrived, we try to check the quality," said zoo curator Sri Penta.
Indonesian forestry minister Zulkifli Hasan was able to intervene and move Melani to a wild animal reserve— a rare save, since the local government that owns Surayaba usually refuses outside aid.
"In order to avoid this continuous use of Melani as a political tool, and to make sure she is treated in a better, safer environment, we moved her to Taman Safari," the minister said.
When it comes to rescuing other animals, the ministry is usually helpless to intervene.
"We were trying to move some animals out to Taman Safari, but they didn't let us, they surrounded us," Hasan said.
In March of 2012, the Associated Press reported on the deplorable conditions of the zoo, which at up to $2 an admission ticket is grossly underfunded.
The zoo hired Tony Sumampouw, an experienced zookeeper, to improve the situation. He lowered the death toll to 15 per month from 25, but little, if any, permanent change resulted.
"We need to either think about privatizing or transferring out some of the animals,” said Sumampouw, who said that a “total renovation” was called for.
Politics and cultural standards have consistently impeded any real progress at the zoo. In Indonesia, zoos are places where large numbers of animals can be viewed for minimum cost.
While maintaining that the zoo has improved conditions in the past year, Agus Supangkat, a zoo spokesman, admitted, “we also have issues.”