Ignorance Kills: Revisiting Manila Zoo

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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.

The birds in the sanctuary were able to escape during a typhoon. They flew back after a few days because they can’t find food.

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?

Swinging as an enrichment activities for monkeys at the Kinder Zoo

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.

Kissing my new friend at the Kinder Zoo. He was whispering “hello” when no one was around. So cute! (Photo by Fritz Tentativa)

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.


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About Faith Salazar

Crazy city girl from Manila. Does social media and digital for a living. Does social media and digital for fun.

18. July 2011 by Faith Salazar
Categories: Lifestyle, Manila News | Tags: , , | 25 comments

  • http://purpleportal.blogspot.com/ Isel

    Thanks for sharing and for taking the effort to investigate! Kinda makes us think twice about people sensationalizing things over the internet without probing deeper into the facts. I saw photos from that PETA protest. Not that I have anything against them, but sometimes they do sound like self-righteous pharisees. I wouldn’t want the zoo to shut down. I think the animals are in a better state there than if they’d be released into the wild where they would have a hard time surviving. 

    • http://www.tanggera.com Faith Salazar

      Hi Isel. Yes, I do hope they tell us where they exactly plan to transfer Mali, the elephant, before saying “save her”. Thanks for the comment! ;)

  • vic manato


    • http://www.tanggera.com Faith Salazar

      Hehe, first comment with a Google Plus reference. Thanks, Vic!

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  • http://twitter.com/GTWMBikiniGirl Katrina Paola

    How would you feel if you are torn apart from your family just so “people” can stare at your for so-called education. Come on! Stop using this as an excuse. 

    Some people think that zoos work to save endangered species, but that is not the case. Zoos don’t rehabilitate the endangered animals who live there so that they can release them into the wild; they rehabilitate them so that they can keep them and put them on display. When they have too many animals or when animals no longer draw a crowd, zoos sometimes sell animals or even kill them. If zoos really cared about animals, they would rescue and care for exotic animals who cannot be released into the wild, but they would never breed them.

    • http://www.tanggera.com Faith Salazar

      Hello. Since we are talking about Manila Zoo here and not some zoo in a far-flung area where we really have no idea if they actually kill animals, let’s not get ahead of ourselves and assume things. As I said earlier, Manila Zoo gets animals that are rescues, they don’t buy them. I’m sure an educated person like you would be able to understand this. And as far as I know, Manila Zoo has never intentionally crossbred animals for research. Correct me if I’m wrong.

      So, case in point, we are talking about a particular zoo here. I can’t argue with you concerning other zoos as I am not an expert. And I can tell from your statement that these are all sweeping generalizations. Please show us facts and be constructive, instead of attacking people online. Thanks. 

      • http://rico.mossesgeld.com Rico Mossesgeld


    • Hal

      Lulz. You obviously don’t know what zoos are for.

    • Johnandkathyg

      How do you think we still have Siberian Tigers in the World… Or Giant Pandas for that matter? If you live in a house that’s in the city or sits on some former eco-system, you’d realize that the “wild” is getting to be a much smaller place.

      Manila Zoo doesn’t have the capacity yet to breed animals and contribute to ARKS, so most of the animals there you see are actually rescued from somebody’s house somewhere. When they do, I think they might come in handy focusing on endangered Philippine Wildlife. The same way that the zoos around the world who house Giant Panda’s actually contribute to their Conservation Program.

      • http://www.tanggera.com Faith Salazar

        Well said, Kathy. :)

  • http://twitter.com/Jayvee Jayvee Fernandez

    Good job Faith and co. One of the biggest problems about our society is  that we tend to become “overnight _______” .. in this case overnight biologists and overnight animal rights activists. We tend to ride the bandwagon before trying to actually learn more about the issue. It was the same case with the black coral smuggling issue — overnight everyone had an opinion as if they were marine biologists. 

    I appreciate the fact that you guys really went out of your way to see what was happening. It’s the same state with Manila Ocean Park, although they are better funded — the park is a double edged sword: great for tourism but also has several “iffy” conditions. 

    • http://www.tanggera.com Faith Salazar

      You put it so well, Jayvee. Not just that. Overnight na nga, armchair pa. It’s so easy to react without knowing what’s really going on and at the end of the day, we should ask ourselves if we really helped. I’m actually against animal captivity, but some of these creatures are caught up in the system, just like some of us. The change will come soon if we try hard, but while things are staying that way, we can help volunteer in the zoo and try to alleviate the suffering some of the animals are experiencing. 

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_BLF6UCW45DRLDE7CMATHOVKLGI Jerry Lynch

    That zoo is a disgrace and I can’t volunteer because I live in Bukidnon Province. Here is a link to a proper zoo. http://www.pittsburghzoo.org/ If people want to know what should happen to the zoo in Manila they should watch Discovery Channel & the Animal Cops series. The animals would be removed from that place and the owners/keepers jailed for neglect and abuse.

    I’ve read the misleading, outdated original post and the follow-up posts but the zoo is still a disgrace and should be closed. For years I’ve said that there should be an anti littering campaign in which people are not fined, but made to work 8 hours for every piece of trash they throw. Soon all the streets, canals, ditches and waterways would be clean and the streams free flowing.

    • http://www.tanggera.com Faith Salazar

      Note that we are seeing Manila Zoo here in a third world perspective. I don’t know if you can see that, you don’t look Filipino and it seems like you haven’t been to the zoo yourself. But, thank you, I appreciate your comment.

    • Kathy Chua-Grimme

      Jerry… Between Pittsburgzoo and Manila zoo is a couple of million dollars and a now Php 42 conversion rate. I volunteer at the zoo. In the beginning, I was there everyday for almost 3 years. 

      Now that I work fulltime and have a family, I do still find time go to the zoo and talk to families about conservation. They listen, because the get to see the animals.  In Manila Zoo, I can show them that snakes aren’t slimy and that they aren’t all that bad… 

      I pick up after all the visitors who leave their trash. I talk to them about it too. These animals live in much better conditions than some of their keepers. Maybe if you saw that, and how much love they have for these animals… you wouldn’t be so condescending. 

      The keepers may not be as well travelled, and don’t hold double degrees in animal behavior and zoo management, but they’re doing the best they can with what they have.

      The zoo is visited by thousands of children every year. And every time a little miracle happens. They discover something about animals they didn’t know before. Their eyes light up, and their world gets just a little bit bigger. They learn to care. They develop great memories of that day with their parents, or teachers. Not everyone can afford to go to Pittsburg zoo, or the National Zoo in Washington, or Singapore Zoo, or Taronga, or San Diego… Heck, not everyone can afford to go to even Avilon.

      As for distance, My friends and I may have started long ago in Manila Zoo – but in the course of our volunteering, we helped with other facilities as far as Palawan and Davao. Distance, trust me, isn’t a problem.  

      Helping this zoo is like helping our country. Lose the apathy or disdain, roll up your sleeves and pitch in any which way you can. After all, we get the zoo we deserve. If you cared, you’d help… If you don’t, then don’t make it worse.

      • Haze Pamela

        nicely said Ms. Kathy…your’e right..if one really cares he/she should not just blab about it..rather ACT on it. Distance is not an issue if your heart calls for you to reach out and help. It doesn’t mean that since Manila Zoo is in Manila only people around the metro should help in restoring it. Thats not true..Have you ever thought of the idea that Philippines receive GRANTS and other aids overseas? Point is, if they were able to help..why can’t someone who simply resides outside the metro?

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  • http://www.facebook.com/HarveyValentinoChua Harvey V. Chua

    Thank you very much for writing this. I hope you are able to reach people who are willing to volunteer to take care of the animals at the Manila Zoo.

  • http://www.facebook.com/HarveyValentinoChua Harvey V. Chua

    Thank you for writing this article. I hope it moves people to better care for animals. 

  • P.

    It was frustrating inviting people to volunteer. To think that they (the people I invited) were talking about doing good for the people, the country, etc. but when I presented this to them as one of the ways they could help, nobody responded.
    I hope this will be a regular thing. I was unable to join today.

    • http://www.tanggera.com Faith Salazar

      Hi P. There will always be people who like to stay in their soapbox and be opinionated without actually getting down and dirty. And there will be people who won’t give up their comfort zones when confronted with a solution to their long list of “should do’s”. They’re a funny sort of folk.

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  • Anonymous

    Its time to move Mali to a place where she can be with other elephants. http://opinion.inquirer.net/31929/transfer-suffering-zoo-elephant-to-sanctuary

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