The Zoo of Death, more formally known as Surabaya Zoo, is one of the worst zoos in the world. In 2010, Surabaya Zoo earned its nickname as the Zoo of Death after animals were dropping dead at alarming rates. It’s estimated that for the entirety of 2010, 25 animals were dying prematurely every month at Surabaya Zoo. Zoo officials claimed that all of the animals were ill, but a quick inspection of the zoo revealed that the animals died from starvation, neglect, and poor living arrangements. Activists tried to pressure the zoo to fix the conditions of the animals in the zoo, but their pleas were ignored. It wasn’t until a team of journalists shared photographs of the conditions that zoo officials responded.
Despite their ‘best’ attempts to improve the quality of life for the animals in the Zoo of Death, in 2014, a lion was found hanging in its cage. The 18-month-old lion was found suspended from the roof by steel cables, and officials from the zoo claimed that the lion must have accidentally become entangled and suffocated itself. The body of the lion disappeared before investigators could examine it, which only made people question the zoo’s story further. The death of Michael the lion came just 24 hours after one of the zoo’s wildebeests died of a stomach problem.
In an attempt to pressure the zoo to change its ways and to encourage other zoos to protect their animals, here are 15 disturbing photos from the Zoo of Death. View with caution.
15. There’s No Hope For Joy
The pygmy hippopotamus is an incredibly reclusive nocturnal herbivore that’s rarely ever studied in the wild. Due to the fact that it’s a nocturnal semi-aquatic animal (and pretty hard to find), most of the research done on pygmy hippos happen inside of a zoo. Experts estimate that there are less than 3,000 pygmy hippos left in the wild. They’ve officially been classified as an endangered species.
Now that you have a brief understanding of the pygmy hippopotamus, you’ll understand why this enclosure is so enraging. The animal, though it’s relatively small for its species, has only been given a minuscule amount of water to swim in. The water is dirty, there’s almost no shrubbery or anything that resembles the pygmy’s natural habitat, and the enclosure doesn’t have anything above it to protect the animal from sunlight. The pygmy hippopotamus is a nocturnal animal, so why is it being displayed outside during the daytime? Ironically, this pygmy hippopotamus is named “Joy.”
14. The Effects of Shackles
This photo was captured by a team of journalists that visited Surabaya Zoo in 2013 to see if the conditions were as bad as people said. What the reporters discovered shocked them — and the world — as they released some of the disturbing images that you’ll see in this article. One of the worst is this photo of an elephant’s leg, which had become scarred and cut because of the shackles attached to it.
As you’ll see in another photograph, the elephant inside of the enclosure had three of its legs shackled. The way that the animal was chained meant that it couldn’t take a single step in any direction. The animal was forced to stand in the same spot that it defecated in. If you know anything about elephants, you’ll realize how disturbing this is.
13. Unable To Take A Single Step
For those that don’t know, elephants are some of the smartest animals on the planet. They have the largest brain of any land animal, and their brain has more neurons and connections than our own. Though it’s believed that most of the elephant’s brain is used to control its massive body, there are definite signs that elephants might be smarter than some of us. There are numerous behaviors that elephants have exhibited time and time again that prove how smart they really are.
To start, elephants can identify differences in human gender, age, and ethnicity, based purely on someone’s voice. This was proven in a study done by the University of Sussex in Brighton, UK. Furthermore, elephants show empathy toward one another. It’s been proven that these massive creatures use physical contact and vocal sounds as forms of comfort. This behavior has been witnessed during times of distress and even when they’re mourning their dead. Finally, elephants have an incredible memory. Even after decades of separation, elephants can remember friends, family, and even trainers.
12. A Walking Skeleton
While camels are goofy-looking creatures, to begin with, there’s nothing funny about this photo. As you’ll notice, the camel doesn’t have its distinct humps. While most people believe that camel humps are where the animal stores water, it’s actually where the animal stores fat. If the animal stays hungry for long enough, the humps will disappear, much like you see in the above photograph.
A little after this photo was taken, Surabaya Mayor Tri Rismaharini claimed that the conditions of the zoo had drastically improved. It seems that the Tri Rismaharini’s statements directly contradict the photographic evidence. The Mayor claimed that she was aware of certain people spreading the “bad news” about the zoo, which is true, but whether or not conditions in the zoo had improved is a whole other matter. There’s one team of animal rights activists who have been revisiting the zoo over the past few years, and you can read their recent report of conditions in the zoo a little later in this article.
11. Forced To Sleep On Concrete
It’s amazing that Surabaya Zoo is able to ‘support’ so many animals. Alleging that they have more species of animals than any other zoo on the planet (a claim that’s untrue), Surabaya Zoo is home to a number of rare animals, including white tigers, Komodo dragons, orangutans, and many other endangered animals. According to Zoo officials, there are more than 4,000 animals living at Surabaya Zoo. Sadly, most of these animals have atrocious living conditions.
There are a few things that stand out about the above photograph. Not only is this white tiger looking a little famished, but it’s laying on the concrete floor, which is anything but comfortable. The concrete itself is in a bad shape, filled with cracks that could cause harm or further discomfort to the animal. The least that Surabaya Zoo could do is provide adequate sleeping arrangements for such beautiful animals, but they can’t even do that. Pathetic.
10. There Were Over 150 Birds In One Enclosure
It always sucks when you go to a zoo and try looking through an enclosure but are unable to find the animal that’s resting inside. In most proper zoos, the enclosures are big enough that the animals are able to shy away from guests if they want to or rest in a den hidden from everyone. Surayaba Zoo wanted to make sure this never happened with their animals, and often forced more animals into an exhibit than are suitable.
As you can see in this aviary, there are more birds than suitable for the exhibit. Guests of the zoo were able to snap photos of a group of 5 or 6 pelicans crowded around a water bath. While pelicans enjoy spending time in the water, many of them have a wingspan of around 10 feet. The animals simply don’t have enough room to stretch their wings and are forced to stand side by side, fighting for space.
9. Eating Too Much Garbage
While it’s great the zookeeper is ensuring that the giraffe is eating, the way the giraffe is detained is absolutely shameful. The giraffe looks like it’s choosing to sit down to be fed, but usually, zoos let animals wander around their enclosure as they please. Additionally, there’s a feeding area within the enclosure, where the animal can eat as much as it wants to when it wants to. What’s concerning about this photo is that the giraffe is strapped into a metal structure, which. more likely than not, prevents it from wandering around its cage.
In 2012, the last remaining giraffe at the zoo died unexpectedly at the age of 30. When the body was examined, a 40-lb (18 kg) ball of plastic was found inside of the giraffe’s stomach. Experts believe that the giraffe was eating garbage that was thrown into the enclosure by visitors. Normally, the trash would be cleared out by a zoo staff member, but that wasn’t the case here. After its death, the giraffe’s bones were showcased in an otherwise empty enclosure in a despicable display.
8. The Animals Aren’t Getting The Treatment They Need
The condition of the bear in this photo is very disturbing to look at. As someone who loves bears, I can’t even stand to look at it. The skin disease found on this bear is very common among bears in captivity that aren’t being cared for. How can a zookeeper look at this animal and ignore the glaring disease on the bear’s skin? If the animal is ill, it should be removed from the sight of guests and placed in the hands of a capable veterinarian. Sadly, this isn’t the only animal at Surabaya that’s suffering from a skin disease because of negligence.
A 2014 report revealed that of the 3,459 animals living at Surabaya Zoo, 81 animals are sick, disabled, and old. Of those 81 animals, 44 were considered to be severely ill. Though the percentage of sick animals seems minor, consider that none of the zoos outside of Indonesia are experiencing animal health problems on a massive scale.
7. This Sad Excuse Of A Penguin Exhibit
If you know a single thing about penguins, you’ll immediately realize what’s wrong with this enclosure. To start, the climate in Indonesia is completely inappropriate. The almost entirely tropical climate of Indonesia has average temperatures of around 28 °C (82.4 °F) in coastal areas. These temperatures are far too hot for an animal that lives in Antarctica. It looks as if the enclosure isn’t even designed to resemble the animals’ natural habitat. There’s no snow, no ice, no signs of a cooling system, and the penguins are hiding in the shade to get out of the heat. There isn’t water for them to play in — there’s murky mud that will more than likely make them sick.
How has Surabaya Zoo been able to get away with these terrible enclosures for so long? Who knows? But since being named “the Zoo of Death,” the Indonesian government has desperately tried to fix the conditions that the animals live in. But that was nearly 7 years ago, and animals are still suffering in Surabaya Zoo.
6. This Isn’t What A Tiger Should Look Like
This isn’t how a tiger should look in captivity. Its fur has been drained of its color, the enclosure looks like a 100-year-old prison in a third-world country, and there isn’t a piece of meat on the tiger. For years, the animals at Surabaya Zoo were underfed, which would lead to health problems and potentially death. In one case, a tiger was fed meat that had been laced with formaldehyde, which rotted away the tiger’s digestive tract.
In addition to being poorly treated by the zookeepers, some of the rarer animals at Surabaya Zoo have to worry about being traded on the black market. There have been rumors for years that the zoos in Indonesia have been purposefully overbreeding their animals to sell them to exotic collectors. When Surabaya was told that several of its animals were going to be removed and placed in the care of other zoos and conservation facilities, the Surabaya mayor publicly said that he thought it was all a ploy to sell the animals on the black market. Furthermore, many animal rights activists have alleged that zookeepers have been selling the meat intended for the animals on the black market.
5. They Look Like Prisoners
If a zoo is able to offer an exhibit where guests could walk up and touch trained orangutans without fear of being attacked, that zoo would make a fortune. Of course, that’s if the gimmick managed to also satisfy the demands of animal rights activists. What we see in the picture, on the other hand, isn’t acceptable at all.
This photo was taken sometime before 2014, when the living conditions of the orangutans were appalling. The animals were kept in tiny cages, completely isolated from each other, and lived most of their lives without any sort of physical interaction from their species.
In 2016, Wild Welfare did a follow-up visit to Surabaya Zoo to check on the living conditions of the orangutans. Amazingly, all the petitions, boycotts, and shaming that were directed at the staff of Surabaya Zoo paid off as the orangutans were moved into a better enclosure. Their new exhibit features a tire swing, grass, and most importantly, they’re all held together in one exhibit. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s a step in the right direction.
4. The Pain In Its Eyes
Do you ever look at a monkey (or ape) and see a little bit of human emotion in its eyes? Though our evolutionary paths varied so many millions of years ago, we really aren’t that different from the monkeys and the apes we throw into cages and stare at for amusement. While it’s fascinating to see animals we wouldn’t be able to see if it weren’t for zoos, at what cost should we be able to see these animals?
The eyes are the gateway to the soul. You can see the pain in the Capuchin monkey’s eyes as it stares at a reporter named Richard Shears, who visited in 2013. According to the reporter, the monkey stared for a few minutes before walking off to grab a banana, only to return and stare again. When reflecting on the experience, Shears said it felt like the monkey was pleading with him to let him free.
3. This Tiger Could Barely Move
The prison that this tiger is trapped in is as small as it looks. As part of journalist Richard Shears’s 2013 investigation into Surabaya Zoo, this tiger was photographed peering through a tiny window while in a small space within its enclosure. The tiger barely had enough room to turn around, which it appeared to do over and over again out of frustration for its situation.
While the tiger was tucked away in the corner of a prison within a prison, the remaining portion of the tiger’s enclosure was completely empty. There were no other animals (or people) in the enclosure, which led reporters to wonder why the animal was tucked away.
For some species of animals at Surabaya, zookeepers keep one of the animals hidden from the public and put the other in the main part of the enclosure. Though the zoo has admitted to doing this with the lions, it’s unsure whether or not they do the same thing with the tiger at their zoo. If it came down to staying in a tiny prison or a medium-sized prison, I’d prefer the medium one any day of the week. I’m sure the tiger would, too.
2. Chewing On Plastic
There are a few things that you should be paying attention to in this photo. While it may look like an orangutan chilling on a grassy hill, look at the orangutan’s mouth. You’ll notice that there’s a yellow object in it. The photographer believed that the orangutan was chewing on either a marker or a pen, because there was no other food for the animal to eat. While the zoo can only do so much to prevent people from throwing garbage at the animals, it’s the responsibility of the zoo to ensure that the exhibits are cleaned of garbage before the animal eats it. The orangutan could’ve choked on the object or gotten the object lodged in its digestive tract.
The second thing you need to look at in this photo is the rat in the bottom right of the photograph. The fact that there’s a rat in the exhibit is sort of a testament to the state of Surabaya Zoo. Who knows what diseases that rat could infect the other animals with?
1. All By Himself
The animal seen in this photo is a moor macaque, a monkey sometimes called a “dog-ape” because of its dog-like mouth. This endangered monkey is used to living in tropical rainforests with its family. Sadly, none of the pleasantries of this monkey’s home can be found in its exhibit.
With less than 1,000 moor macaques left, these monkeys should be breeding in captivity. Instead, this moor macaque has been forced to live on an island by itself, with next to nothing to keep it entertained. Macaques have a very distinct social structure, and it’s considered unhealthy to have these monkeys live in isolation. There are some animals that thrive when alone, but macaques are not one of them. I find this image the most disturbing out of any of the other photos to come out of Surabaya Zoo. The animal has a somewhat acceptable enclosure in terms of environment (it’s not sleeping on the concrete after all), but the lack of any other living creature on that island is disturbing. At any point, a zookeeper could’ve asked if they should get a friend for their moor macaque, but they haven’t given him one. The poor thing doesn’t even have a tree to climb.
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