Zoo Animals in Crisis

  • by: Amy A
  • recipient: CITES, WAZA, IUCN

With an ever changing world marred by violence, poverty, and climatic events, the instability remains a human challenge of epic proportions by all involved, but none are so vulnerable with no ability to escape than animals locked away in zoos. In the last few years, there have been multiple articles about animals starving to death in substandard conditions locked in cement cells cruelly waiting for salvation or in too many cases, death. This is due to no fault of their own but simply due to a country in turmoil either by war, economic collapse, government upheaval, or natural disasters causing severe economic erosion.

It is due to war and dying zoo animals that motivated our organization, A Lion's Heart, to get involved with the Taiz Zoological Gardens rescue in Taiz, Yemen. Initially founded by Chantal Jonkergou with SOS Zoo and Bear Rescue in February 2016 and later, after a successful partnership, the rescue project was turned over to A Lion's Heart at the end of December 2016.

Since January 2017 A Lion's Heart has tirelessly fundraised for the entire zoo of almost 300 animals to date. It is our belief that animals should not be left to die due to our conflicts and problems. We believe we have a moral obligation, as a species, to these trapped animals caught in disaster. Help should not be dependent on a legal release by a government, or in Taiz zoo's case, governments and other warring parties. It is instability that got them here. So, it is asinine to believe, that this same instability, has the power, willingness, or even the ability to get them out. Yet, CITES insists on full compliance with all international and country laws. There is absolutely no solution/law(s) put into place to address or help in these cases of extraordinary circumstances. Therefore, we stay and pray for peace to get through yet another week's requirements with these desperate animals in trapped Taiz. It is literally a do or the animals die situation.

Crazily, CITES is fully aware of the Taiz zoo animals and their conflict situation. The IUCN is painfully aware of these animals as well. They actually reached out to us due to Taiz possibly holding the only key to the survival of the Arabian leopard, Pathera pardus nimr, a valuable subspecies native to Taiz and the Arabian peninsula. Taiz currently holds one of the largest captive populations in the world and it is thought to possess hold unique genes. Genes we should not let disappear, if there is a way to save them.

Sadly, Taiz zoo is far from alone. There are multiple zoos in conflict or in economic collapse with animals suffering and without help, dying a cruel death. In our case, I do not blame Yemen but I do blame our main animal world authorities. The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) whole purpose is to promote captivity and zoos around the world. Yet, WAZA will do nothing for non-member zoos with zoo animals in crisis or in war.
CITES is over all trade and the movement of captive wild animals. Its membership expands globally and even has Yemen as a member country. Therefore, permits are required for the transfer or trade of wild animals and/parts throughout all member countries that span globally.

CITES and WAZA play a huge part in both the promotion, the capturing (in some cases), and the transfer of wildlife in captivity. Yet, there is nothing in place to help the animals in trouble, from said captivity, besides local or international NGOs and/or enforcement. Therefore, it is our proposal that WAZA and CITES retain a small fee from all moves, transfers, and memberships for a fund to be used for these animals and also to provide education. This fund could be used to remove and return home at risk animals and/or for their care during an ongoing conflict or economic situation.

We feel this is a minimum request but could save a lot of animals trapped in terrible situations brought on by external forces. No animal should suffer starvation or untreated illnesses due to no fault of their own. We believe the global animal authorities that helped put them there, should have something in place to help get them out of a terrible situation.

Now, there could be a better answer for these animals but something needs to be done. These crisis animals' deaths should not be acceptable to anyone. We definitely have the power to change it all but the question is there a will. Therefore, we will continue to wait and stand by Yemen and the Taiz animals until we see them through. We will continue to pray to get by for yet another week. We do realize the Taiz animals are lucky because there are too many animals with absolutely no one and nothing in place to help them.

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