Four years ago, the director of the Pata Zoo in Bangkok, Thailand, agreed that its lone gorilla on exhibit should be moved to a more suitable location.
But Bua Noi, the 31-year-old ape who’s lived in its dingy cage here since she was just a few months old, still mopes around the sterile concrete floor, reaching through the steel bars for bits of paper on the floor or anything that might help break the deadening monotony of her life in an indoor cage.
I visited the Pata Zoo recently as a tourist with a Thai friend and her adult daughter, who said she'd always wanted to see the gorilla but had never gone.
So we decided to visit this slice of Bangkok, located on the top two floors of a commercial mall in the Bang Phlat section of Thailand's capital city.
Why I Never Liked Zoos Much
On our drive there I told my friends of my general dislike for zoos. I opined that animals are imprisoned for public display and exploited for profit.
Though I understand that many zoos worldwide take great care to make their animals’ environment as natural and comfortable as possible, I rarely enjoy a trip to the zoo.
On this occasion, I agreed to go and hoped to be surprised.
Sadly, my only surprise was how really bad this zoo was.
There was a pair of orangutans clinging to the inside of the metal fencing that kept them imprisoned.
They had a "nest" made of rope that was suspended from the ceiling for them, with a few long-dead leaves spread about. It was designed, I imagine, with the intent to recreate the treetop nests that wild orangutans build with fresh vegetation every night in their native jungles.
A few empty swings hung from the ceiling of the cage apparently for the orangutans' amusement.
Other mammals retreated to far corners of their enclosures, seemingly to avoid the visiting strangers who gawked and talked at them on a daily basis.
There also was a variety of birds and reptiles, amphibians and fish, all held under similar, seemingly inadequate conditions.
It was sad and depressing, so much that I wanted to leave almost as soon as I arrived.
Why Not Care For All Species?
There is something to be said about efforts to improve the treatment of native elephants in Thailand. Isn't it time to save these imported species from the abuses they are suffering?
Zoo director Kanit Sermsirimongkol said that local “government officials” who inspected the zoo's facilities four years ago deemed them acceptable. At the same time, he added that "eventually we will have to find (Bua Noi) a suitable new home." That was four years ago.
Meanwhile, I felt uneasy even pointing a camera at Bua Noi and these other creatures, believing it only added to the anguish I saw in their eyes.
So I stopped photographing, and only include here one photo of an orangutan's hands that cling plaintively to the inside of its enclosure.
Contrast these orangutans' gloomy existence with the orangutan in Borneo, Malaysia, where in April I saw them living freely in the wild, building their nests high in the canopy of forest trees, gathering their food, and caring for their young.
And though the orangutans' existence in their natural habitat is severely endangered by increasing excesses of the world's agricultural industry, at least the ones that remain in the receding jungles live a free life, not as slaves to the profit demands of humans for exotic voyeurism.
We humans still have much to learn about humanity, life, and coexisting in the world with other living creatures.
Spend Your Tourism Dollars Elsewhere
As you may have guessed by now, there are many more enjoyable ways to spend your time and tourist dollars in Bangkok than visiting the Pata Zoo.
Admission is 600 Thai baht for foreign visitors (about $20 US), which is 100 Thai baht more than it costs to see the inspiring and stunningly beautiful Royal Grand Palace in Bangkok.
I would heartily recommend you spend your money to see the Palace, or almost anything else in Bangkok instead of the zoo, if you must make a choice.
The shameful treatment of the animals at Pata Zoo should have been recognized and put to an end a long time ago.
But, in fact, it was recognized four years ago and somehow allowed to continue.
The only question is, why?
David Hunter Bishop is a retired journalist from Hawaii who quickly tired of retirement life and hit the road as a solo traveler in August 2016. Since then he's traveled in 18 countries on four continents and is currently enjoying life in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka. For more about David's journey, see his blog at www.davidhunterbishop.com. David's also been interviewed by Nomadic Matt and Expat Focus, and for an article titled, A Confluence of Adventure Writers, by veteran Borneo news writer and author James Ritchie.
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