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Adopt a zoo

/ 11:44 PM August 07, 2013

Or, well, a bit of it. I’ve written on this matter many, many times before (six columns since 2008), and I’m gratified to see that the new mayor of Manila agrees with me: He’ll keep the Manila Zoo. We need a zoo, a decent, kid-exciting zoo. And we need the wondrous century-old trees there. Whoever suggested converting the zoo into another commercial center should be shot. Do you realize that the zoo used to extend all the way to the Century Park hotel, but Marcos gave three hectares of it away to build that dreadful Harrison Plaza? That must not happen again.

There’s a complaint that the zoo is too crowded and not of the standards modern zoos now achieve. And it’s true, but the poor officials managing it are doing so on a shoestring budget. The entrance fees are a miserable P20 for adults and P10 for kids (for Manila residents), and P40 and P20 for non-Manilan adults and kids. And that money doesn’t go to the zoo but to the city treasury.

Meanwhile, the national government probably doesn’t even know the zoo exists. All the zoo gets is P15 million annually for animal food and medicines (Taronga Park Zoo in Sydney gets the equivalent of P113 million). With that pittance, a dedicated staff does an incredible job. It’s the cheapest form of recreation for families, and students from different universities do their research and clinical internship there. Furthermore, it’s also a rescue center for all animals.

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The zoo opened in 1959. Since then only 60 percent of the area has been renovated. The administration building is as old as the trees. The employees need a conducive workplace. The clinic is dark, with crude equipment. Despite this, the medical team works efficiently. Furthermore, the zoo needs a breeding program that includes a tie-up with other zoos for an exchange program to prevent inbreeding. The animals in the zoo are well taken care of. It’s the enclosures that need attention.

It’s cruel, say some animal lovers, to cage animals who should be in the wild. But is it? How do they know? Animals don’t talk. Birds are meant to fly? Are they? I have a pet cockatoo who is fed regularly and well, and who kisses me in the morning (yes, she does, and my wife doesn’t object). She sits and watches TV with me; she makes no attempt to fly away. Is she worse off than cockatoos in the wild? We love animals, and our daughter is an environmental scientist who cares desperately for the protection of animals. Why is she so fond of animals? It’s because since a baby she has grown up with animals, which led to a love for them. And the recognition that they must be looked after.

Zoos are where kids get to see, and love, animals—the wonder of an elephant (the only animal that can’t jump—did you know that? I didn’t), the amazingly elegant neck of a giraffe, the fearsome majesty of a lion, the feline fearsomeness of a tiger, the fascination of a python, the hilarity of the antics of monkeys, the majesty of an eagle, or the Einsteinesque look of an owl.

They all charm and capture you, and you want to look after them, to protect their environment in the wild. It’s something you’d be much less likely to do if you’d never actually seen, or experienced, these wonderful creatures. (The kids’ petting zoo is more than just a playground, it’s a learning experience.)

So IF—and I stress IF—it is indeed cruel to imprison a few animals in a zoo, it’s a price well worth paying to better protect their brethren.

This brings me to Maali (correct spelling), that elephant of wonder to kids. (I fed her the other day. What an experience—a bit frightening, really, she’s so big.) There are noisy calls to move her to Thailand to join a herd. This could well kill her. Maali is 39 and has but six or seven years left; she’s a senior citizen that needs our care. She has never lived in a herd and the stress of moving—lifted by cranes, put in a cage on a plane, quarantined in Thailand, and then moved by truck into an unfamiliar environment she may not adapt to and into a herd who may or may not accept her—could be the end of her. The risk is just too high. She’s lived at the zoo since she was three years old, and has friends she’s used to and who look after her.

Her enclosure has been greatly expanded and there are plans to make it into a more natural environment, with a dirt floor, and trees and shrubs. But it costs money. Perhaps those calling for her relocation could fund that. It would be the kinder thing to do.

There’s talk of moving the zoo to the 33-hectare public park at La Mesa Dam. This is well worth looking into. The zoo then becomes a park, a beautiful park that Manila can be proud of. It’s a Filipino heritage that must be protected.

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Every great city has a great zoo (and a great park, but that’s another story in its own right: Where are our parks?). Manila can, too; all it needs is money, and care. As a start, the entrance fees should go entirely to the zoo, and perhaps be increased a bit. I’m pleased to note a news item where Erap says he’s negotiating P2 billion from Singapore to improve the zoo overall. What would really help is if corporations would do what they do elsewhere: sponsor an animal or two.

It’s time for all of us to help look after the zoo.

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TAGS: Ferdinand Marcos, Filipino heritage, Harrison Plaza, Joseph Estrada, La Mesa Dam, Maali, Manila Zoo, Sydney, Taronga Park Zoo, Zoo
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