10 Dec 2020 SkyNews | Cher calls for Thailand’s Pata Zoo to rehome gorilla Bua Noi after 30 years living above shopping centre. Bua Noi has lived at Pata Zoo on the top floor of a department store in western Bangkok since 1990
SE Asia correspondent @SiobhanRobbins Thursday 10 December 2020 13:08, UK
Days after rescuing “the world’s loneliest elephant” from Pakistan, singer Cher is attempting to rehome a gorilla living above a Thai shopping centre. Bua Noi has lived at Pata Zoo on the top floor of a department store in western Bangkok since 1990.
She is the only gorilla in Thailand after her mate died many years ago.
Writing on Twitter, Cher appealed to residents of the Thai capital to help her in her mission to relocate her.
“Good People Of Bangkok I Know You Will Understand & Help Me Stop The Torturing Of Innocent Animals. It Is a Sin.Please Help Me Bring Peace to these Animals. & Free Them From Pata Zoo…Shopping Mall,” she wrote in a series of tweets demanding change.
Cher has recently returned from Southeast Asia after successfully helping 36-year-old Asian elephant Kaavan begin a new life at a reserve in Cambodia following years on his own in a controversial Islamabad zoo.
Bangkok’s Pata Zoo opened in the 1980s and has two floors housing a range of animals, reptiles, birds, and various species of monkey.
Representatives at Free The Wild, a charity the singer co-founded, have confirmed they have been in touch with the Thai government with the aim of getting Bua Noi relocated, along with a bonobo and an orangutan and her baby, which are also housed at the zoo.
“None of these animals appear to be being properly cared for and the reports we have received refer to the zoo as decrepit and overrun with rats and cockroaches,” said charity co-founder Mark Cowne.
“No matter how much ‘care and attention’ is lavished on these animals by their owners and keepers, just by keeping them in such confines and conditions is purgatory for them in terms of their well-being and mental health.
“These primates are the closest living relatives to mankind and, when we wish to severely punish another of our own species, we put them into solitary confinement. The worst possible punishment for a human. And, even then, it is for a limited period.
“But these wild, wonderful, charismatic animals are in solitary confinement for life. In a zoo. On top of a shopping mall. That is far removed from the lowlands of the Congo.”
Cher welcomes lonely elephantCher welcomes lonely elephant
In a letter responding to requests from the charity for help securing the primates’ release, the minister of natural resources and environment, Varawut Silpa-Archa, said the zoo was working on an action plan to move the animals from the seventh floor of the mall.
“Please be informed that the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment has never forgotten or ignored Bua Noi. I, myself as minister in charge of wildlife conservation, have given instruction to the relevant agencies in order to find the best solution for a better life of Bua Noi,” he wrote.
Thai officials confirmed that while the zoo isn’t breaking any rules by keeping a gorilla, its owners have previously been told to improve conditions including fire safety and animal welfare, which was described as “moderate”.
The owners have said plans to build a new site have been put on hold due to financial issues caused by COVID-19.
“We have said that the sixth and seventh floor are not suitable for a zoo but they claim they have economic problems,” said Sompong Thongseekem, director of the Wildlife Conservation Office, Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation in Thailand.
“The deadline for the zoo permit extension is approaching, if they do not improve it the extension will be put on hold.”
However, the director of Pata Zoo, Kanit Sermsirimongkol, rejected criticism about the conditions, saying all the animals were well cared for and they weren’t “torturing” any of them.
He said the enclosures were spacious, disinfected daily, and that the gorilla eats two kilograms of fruit and vegetables every day and has access to sunlight.
“Pata Zoo would like to clarify the news on social media which provides inaccurate information about Pata Zoo by using personal feelings to judge rather than reasons and facts,” he said in a statement to Sky News.
“It creates a buzz with distorted information such as the gorilla shows grief and cries. In fact, gorillas cannot cry because they do not have lacrimal glands like humans.
“There is an accusation that the animals are starved and gaunt which is not true.”
“Also, the call for releasing the gorilla into the wild is the idea of animal lovers who lack knowledge and understanding about animals. Animals that are raised in the zoo cannot be released to survive in the wild as animals born in zoos are accustomed to, and have grown up in zoos,” he added.
Cher isn’t the first celebrity to call for Bua Noi’s release. In May, The Crown star Gillian Anderson wrote a letter on behalf of animal rights group PETA, which previously protested outside the mall.
“As you surely know, the Pata Zoo has been called one of the saddest places in the world,” Anderson wrote.
“By making the decision to close the zoo and send the animals to reputable sanctuaries with the help of my friends at PETA, you can end the growing controversy and show the world that animals deserve mercy.”
Representatives of Cher’s charity confirmed they intend to visit the site in the near future with the hope of moving the primates to a sanctuary.
“For Cher, we want to invite her to our zoo if she comes to Thailand so she can see how well we look after the gorilla with love and care,” Mr Sermsirimongkol said.