Animals remain caged in closed Buenos Aires Zoo

An elderly orangutan, Sandra, is still kept behind bars even though the zoo she lives in has been closed. Many of her fellow zoo inhabitants are kept in the same condition.

The 140-year-old Buenos Aires Zoo closed its doors last year. It is being transformed into an ecological park. But there’s still no word on where the animals will go.

The developers and politicians promised to relocate most of the zoo’s 1,500 animals to sanctuaries in Argentina and abroad. A year later, conservationists find that nothing has changed.

“What are they doing wrong? Well, everything is being done wrong. It’s a simple as that. Because first, there wasn’t an advisory commission of an adequate level to take on such a (demanding) project that is turning around the fate of the (Buenos Aires) zoo from decline,” said Juan Carlos Sassaroli, an animal welfare consultant.

Experts fear that many of the animals are so zoo-trained that they would die if moved, even to wild animal preserves. But conservationists say the conditions they’re living in now are considered inhumane by modern standards.

The city government on Tuesday announced a new master plan outlining the details of the zoo’s transformation process.

Some concrete changes have been made.Less people are allowed to see the animals, and some animal habitats are off-limits to the public. This will help reduce stress for the animals.

“Some of them (the animals in the Eco-Park, former zoo) will never be able to be relocated, simply for the fact the dangers to their well being would be higher than if they remain here. So we are going to take all the time necessary so that this whole process is carried out with those priorities (the well being of the animals) at the center of it, while continuing a transformation process, following 135 years where nobody (took the initiative or invested the resources in) changed anything. But right now we can do this, thanks the environment of teamwork with the national government,” said Buenos Aires Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta.

Critics said this is not enough and the animals’ long-term well being is being neglected. Instead, officials are prioritizing the development of the ecological park.  

“The fundamental reason why I am so committed in fighting against this (the current development plans for Buenos Aires Eco-Park) is that I do not want the zoo converted into a shopping mall or just another entertainment centre that has nothing to do with the conservation of species,” said Juan Carlos Sassaroli, veteran and animal welfare consultant.

The conservationists say the transformation is a long way off fulfilling its commitments.