East London Zoo animals remain confined in small barren enclosures
Louzel Lombard Steyn
17 January 2019
East London Zoo – Photo: SABC News

This is a story about a lonely bear in a pit, a jaguar with nowhere to run or trees to climb, a vulture with nowhere to fly and the cruelty of a zoo that doesn’t seem to care.

More than a year ago the East London Zoo, run by Buffalo City Metro Municipality (BCMM), came under fire after photos of two elderly bears kept  trapped in a concrete pit caused a public outcry. Donors offered to pay for the substansial improvement of enclosure for the bears.

But despite promises the Municipality has done  nothing to improve the inhumane cages and pits housing the creatures under it’s dubious care.

Subsequently, one of the  bears had to be euthanised after becoming paralysed in it’s hind legs in October last year. It’s unclear how long the bear had suffered before the issue was detected, but NSPCA say they have launched an investigation into the matter and are still gravely concerned about the ongoing suffering of the zoo’s animals.

The remaining bear now spends its days in solitary confinement in the sterile concrete pit, despite an offer from Lionel de Lange of the Lawrence Anthony Earth Organisation to cover the costs to alter the bears’ enclosure.

After a visit in March last year, De Lange requested that the Zoo obtain quotations and permission from the municipality to proceed with the alterations, however nothing has been received.

“EL Zoo management are dragging their heels and not providing any of the information requested. We agreed on site for the new enclosures and I have been waiting since March for quotes from them.” He says that the Zoo had stopped all correspondence with him because, they say, “I have been talking to the press.”

No comment could be obtained from East London Zoo regarding the welfare of the remaining bear or the upgrade of the enclosure.

The zoo’s jaguar has been spent the past 18 months in a 150m2 wire cage – not much bigger than a suburban swimming pool – containing  a slimy moat and a pole structure but no shade trees or enrichment objects.  

In February last year, the zoo’s senior manager Siani Tinley, said its enclosure was a temporary holding while the Zoo was finalizing its permanent quarters and said it would be moved to new enclosure by the end of winter 2018. This didn’t happen.  

Speaking on air to Algoa FM radio in July last year, Tinley claimed to have no knowledge of the time-frame, saying again that the jaguar would be moved ‘in six to eight months’ time’.

The big cat remains in its wire cage, despite attempts from the big cat NGO Panthera Africato relocate the jaguar to its Big Cat Sanctuary.

According to Cornwall-Nyquist of Panthera Africa, c the enclosure is “unacceptably small”. “The smallest enclosure at Panthera Africa is 500m2 – and that’s for a jackal. Leopard enclosures are between 1500m2 and 2000m2.”

She says the zoo does nothing for conservation, awareness or education as the jaguar is kept in a tiny enclosure, without any enrichment, far removed from what its natural habitat would be.

Jaguars are native to the Americas and live in lush territories with an abundance of fresh water.

The Zoo management brushed off detailed emails from Panthera Africa explaining the serious welfare concerns and insist they “cannot foresee that the jaguar will be relocated unless there is very strong need and motivation for such.”

Another major cause for concern is a lone, endangered Cape vulture kept in a tiny cage at the zoo, according to Kate Webster of the vulture conservation programme Vulpro.

“By nature, Cape vultures are birds that live in colonies, feed together and breed on cliffs together. This poor soul is has been sitting alone in its cage for more than a year after its two initial companions died . The enclosure is totally unacceptable. It has no stimulation and no space to fly.”

Webster says Vulpro would be more than willing to take in the vulture, but given the Zoo’s track-record of refusing help, this would seem an unlikely development.

According to Marthie Rossouw of the NSPCA’s Wildlife Protection Unit, ‘the small, barren enclosures [at the zoo] are not designed for the welfare of the animals but rather for the interaction and best views of visitors.

The local DA spokesperson on local government, Kevin Mileham, says the municipality has been callous in denying the animals a better life, saying the zoo’s financial and capacity constraints should not be used be “an excuse for the adverse conditions under which the animals are expected to live, especially considering the assistance offered by various NGOs, private organizations and individuals.”

The Zoo’s stubborn refusal to accept expert help has left experts and NGOs disillusioned. De Lange, speaking to the Daily Dispatch following the bear’s death, said that there could only be one way forward for the zoo.

“We’ve offered help and they don’t want to take it. As far as I’m concerned, it needs to be shut down and all the animals need to be rehomed.”

The public supports this sentiment; an ongoing petition to close down the East London “Zoo of Horrors” has gained more than 143 600 signatures.