Last week, an uproar on the current conditions of Manila Zoo erupted on Twitter, that started with Nix de Pano posting random photos of the zoo from two years ago and captioning them. A blogger friend, Karen Ang from ProPinoy reposted the photos that later made a stir on the said social networking site, making the keywords “Manila Zoo” a trending Twitter topic worldwide.
This is all the work of ignorance. In fairness to Nix de Pano, she revisited the zoo last week. I was curious as to what the ruckus is all about, so I also went to Manila Zoo yesterday with Karen and Fritz, also a blogger friend. Karen Ang posted her report after visiting the zoo here. We got in touch with long time volunteer, Kathy Chua-Grimme on their apparently dead Facebook page, My Zoo Volunteer Group. I’d like to share with you a snippet of Kathy’s response to our call for volunteers.
Hi Faith, I think the best time to go to the zoo would be to go in the morning though. On most Sundays, my dad is there to help take care of Ma’ali, the Elephant.
I understand where you might be coming from, I was like that once about 12 years ago when I started volunteering with the zoo. My best friend (then a volunteer at the Johannesburg Zoo in South Africa), quickly chided me and said if I wasn’t prepared to help then all my criticisms would be coming from the soapbox point of view.
You’ll be happy to know that in the years that we spent volunteering with Manila Zoo – it has actually changed dramatically for the better. It’s still not perfect – but if you could get to know them over a longer period of time – you’d see that they’re trying their best.
Most of the changes you’ll see are actually from the Zoo’s own initiative. Kudos to them. We concentrated more on the educational programs and a few environmental enrichment projects.
Unfortunately with MyZoo, most of the primary members got caught up in the realities of having to work for a living, others have had to move or migrate, and a few are busy trying to build families of their own.
We were young once… I was 19 when I co-founded the volunteer group with Kitty. It was easy enough to cut class to be there for major tours, or run the community service program for the schools. I’m now 31, and while I do try to be there on some Sundays to help my dad (he and Ma’ali have this really special bond), it’s not always possible.
Perhaps you and your friends would like to take-up where we left off and make that difference that we once made. I still have a handful of resources you can get ideas from, and contact people who can help with enrichment programs.
It’s a lot of fun, I promise. The years I was there were a few of the most meaningful and exciting times of my life.
I hope you’d consider helping out. In a city where people find recreation mostly in malls, the zoo can be a refreshing break. There are still lots of trees, space enough for a proper picnic, and a small collection of animals you’d never really see in the flesh unless you could afford to go on a safari.
Remember, each of the zoo residents are the ambassadors for their kind. With good signage or a great tour, they’ve got the potential to reach out to people, to touch their hearts and even maybe their lives. More importantly, they’re able to educate people and get them to care about the environment.
Ma’ali and the rest have been able to turn ordinary children into highly inquisitive animal lovers. They just need a bit of help – like someone who can deliver a kick-ass zoo tour. Someone, I suspect, like you…
We talked with Kathy and her husband John, who also came to volunteer at the zoo five years ago through her. They are very passionate about the animals’ welfare and the zoo, I was mesmerized at how something so intense could fuel them every time they spend time, effort and money volunteering in Manila Zoo. Kathy has been all over the world, learning and volunteering in different zoos, such as the Johanessburg Zoo and the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, and I’m telling you, she might not be a vet, but knows her stuff. Twelve years of volunteering and pure passion will do that to you, without you minding what you’d be giving up in return. If you haven’t volunteered, you won’t understand and you will forever be in boxed in your own little world of ignorance.
Maali, the Asian elephant, has a space of her own and gets visited every so often by a volunteer, Mr. John Chua, one of the best photographers in the country. I was surprised to see him there, bringing sacks of sand, bananas, coconuts. They spent the morning doing enrichment activities for Maali, giving her a shower and a foot spa (yes, elephants love that!). We were able to feed Maali mangoes, her first love, near the enclosure, thanks to Kathy. She had her very own waterfall, which she almost destroyed when some protesters from PETA made noise outside the zoo. She hates megaphones, videoke singing and noise. Read a very heart-wrenching and inspiring post about Ma’ali and Mr. John Chua’s friendship by Sacha Chua here.
Obviously, Manila Zoo needs a lot of improvement. First of all, it’s undermanned. It needs people who will pass on their love for animals to children and their parents, no matter how hard it is to help them understand. People who have been feeding the animals unknowingly contribute to the degradation of the animals’ health. Plastic, popsicles and other harmful objects get ingested by animals – in fact, two giraffes have died, one of their four stomachs filled with plastic.
Second point – why do the animals look thin and sickly? I’ve learned from Kathy that the zoo doesn’t have the funds to acquire new animals. That’s why they only get more if the animals are either donated or rescued. Two Bengal Siberian-Bengal cross tigers have been recently rescued from an abusive Caucasian owner. Unwanted turtles and snakes are in the reptile sanctuary, with regular visits from volunteer vet students.
Photo by Fritz Tentativa
Thirdly, I wouldn’t call what I saw “maltreatment”. What I saw was more like “improper handling” of some animals. An albino snake was being displayed in a table for photographs with two handlers showing it off. A turtle, which has an uncanny ability to carry heavy weights on it’s back, was encouraged to be sat on at the Kinder Zoo, a private compound inside Manila Zoo, with an extra charge of P100. I hope the handlers would be a lot gentler.
The most important lesson I’ve learned from all this is to always put yourself in others’ shoes. It’s so easy to hate and say close down the zoo, but have you considered thinking about what they’d do to all the animals who have no place in the wild? And if they have a chance of survival, in what kind of ‘wild’ will you put them in – where they get hunted for pulutan (food), where they are killed because of fear and ignorance? Did you think about the amount of stress these animals will suffer when you transfer them to a high risk environment with little to no skills at all? If you can’t find a wild for them, is it better to just euthanize them?
Personally, I enjoyed my experience at Manila Zoo. The animals there are eat better than beggars on the streets. The tigers have biggers space compared to our public schools with over 50 to 100 students per classroom. The zoo isn’t great, but it’s not bad, once you ground yourself and remember that you are in a third world country. Right now, our government doesn’t have the capacity, nay the right, to maintain a zoo like this. I don’t agree with closing down the zoo, but I agree with making it private. Zoo tickets will go up but that’s the kind of treatment our animals need. Animals are not just there for entertainment, they’re there to educate us, and in the end, touch us – that we need to be humane, not just to our own kind, but to creatures who contribute to the cycle of life, as well.
There’s a petition going around to close Manila Zoo. I’m not saying don’t sign, but please, think before you do. If you are against zoos in general, please don’t close your mind. I thank Kathy and the two Johns in her life (Mr. Chua and Mr. Grimme) who have inspired me with their passion. Instead of saying that I got depressed over what I saw at Manila Zoo, I’d say I was inspired. I was inspired to contribute to the change.
There were over 1000+ retweets and reposts about The Very Sad State of Manila Zoo, but none of those people from Twitter, responded to our call for volunteering at the zoo – which is, I think, sadder. Yes, writing and informing people about the zoo is a step – the first of many. Don’t stop there. Volunteer.
Hit me up on my contact page if you’re interested or go to Friends of Manila Zoo for more information on how to volunteer. We’re going back this Sunday, July 31, 2011. If you wanna join, you can check out the event page here.