Meeting with General Inspector in The Ministry of National Resources

Bangkok | Friday 10 January 2020 was a landmark day for us.  Together with animal activist and journalist, Sinjira Apaitan, we met Mr Chalermehai Papaka, General Inspector and his team at the Ministry of Natural Resources & Environment (MNRE).

It is important to mention that, as the ex-Deputy Director of The Department of the National Parks Thailand, Mr Papaka was involved with the awarding of an annual licence to Pata Zoo and consequently, is well aware of the plight of Buanoi. At our meeting we learned that the Secretary at MNRE recently visited Buanoi and that the MNRE will, in all probability, set up a working committee of representatives in academic fields of zoological and environmental specialisms and zoo management.

Our concern is for the future of all the animals in captivity at Pata.  However we now demand that urgent and immediate action be taken with regard to Buanoi’s future. She has been incarcerated for nearly 30 years, most of this time spent in solitary confinement since her male companion died in 2007. Her mental health has deteriorated beyond measure. Her keeper is merely a minder who feeds and waters her, and is no substitute for same-species company which gorilla crave, and particularly since they share 98% of our DNA. 

Sinjira mentioned that we would like to ask MNRE to follow up on the regulations which were drafted several years ago under the authority of the DNP. Mr Papaka said that when the 2019 Wild Life Protection Act is passed into law it will address the physical needs of all wildlife in Zoos throughout Thailand.

We have solution!

We presented a proposal from Damian Aspinall of the Aspinall Foundation who is ready to sponsor and transport Buanoi to a sanctuary in Africa.  An alternative solution, which is currently more acceptable to the Pata Zoo owner, Mr Kanit Sermsirimongkol would be for her to be relocated within Thailand.  The Bangkok Post will interview Mr Sermsirimongkol next week (mid-January 2020), and we look forward to hearing more about his intensions and plans for the Zoo, and Buanoi in particular.

It’s claimed by the Zoo that in her natural environment surrounded by vegetation, she may contract a complaint transmitted to primates from bacteria and insect infested soil. To quote Jane Rasmussen-Dewar of ‘Gorilla Haven’, ‘The soil argument is like saying they might be struck by lightning.  There’s always a risk moving gorillas, but considering where Bua Noi is now, anywhere would be better, and while I’m not sure where she’d go, she’s be under the care of a professional zoo.’ Jane goes on to cite examples out of countless lone gorillas that have been successfully rehabilitated:

  • Willie B at Zoo Atlanta where a new exhibit was built for him.  At first he was hesitant to go on the grass, but soon figured it out and went on to have kids and live a life with other gorillas , after being housed along for decades.
  • Ivan from Tacoma to Zoo Atlanta. As with Bua Noi he lived in a shopping mall, but went to Zoo Atlanta where, like QIllie B he ha a family group and bred, although sadly he didn’t have any offspring. However he led a group and I was so proud of him.
  • Timmy relocated from Cleveland to Bronx.  Again, he lived in a concrete jungle in Cleveland and moved to a grassy area in Bronx which he never really liked although he did start to sire offspring and lived a good life. “ 

Buanoi should be next name on the list. Our meeting was promising.  We want 2020 to be a year which brings major changes and happy positive outcomes for the animals at Pata Zoo, with an immediate relocation plan for Buanoi.  

“Land of Smiles”

Thailand is synonymous with nature in all its beauty, mountains and forests, crystal clear waterfalls, blue seas and golden beaches.

In 2019 British Airways Holidays joined Thomas Cook and Virgin Holidays to stop selling tickets to Sea World. We see China travel industry leaders, like Travalyst initiative founding member Trip.com, being aware about the need of sustainable tourism. Animal parks and countries which promote animal cruelty don’t belong to this trend.

Travellers will only continue to choose Thailand as a destination if their values concord with those practiced in Thailand.  Awareness is growing.  We hope to see Thailand joining other countries in stopping the legalization of captive animal attractions and to truly be ‘The Land of Smiles’.  

Let 2020 mark the start of a decade to be dedicated to animal rights and issues throughout Thailand.  At the dawn of the decade we learned of a new project in the form of a Tiger Park on Phuket.  This is incomprehensible in the wake of the closure of the notorious Tiger Temple. There is absolutely no place for animal entertainment in the ‘Land of Smiles’.  The Tiger Park is a quick economic fix which doesn’t concord with today’s climate of compassion towards animals. One can argue they will be cared for – but at what cost? At the cost of the ‘deadening’ of their natural instincts! 

Eco-tourism is on the rise and just as lucrative, if not more so than animal entertainment parks.  Granted some inroads have been made in Thailand with regard to turning Elephant attractions into sanctuaries where the public learn and interact with rescued elephants in a respectful way, joining in their feeding and bathing routines rather than burdening them with rides. To open a Tiger Park where children play with cubs (and one dares to ask how this will be made possible?) is a retrograde step for Thailand.  In the 21st century there is far more awareness of animals as sentient creatures, environment issues are on the school curriculum and this includes respect for all animals that we share this wonderful planet with.

Sinjira Apaitan (Thailand), Joanna Sobkowicz (Poland)