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WAZA resolves to close Pata Zoo, but can it really be done?

Pata Zoo was a constant topic throughout the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) conference. From Dr Jane Goodall’s impassioned speech about the suffering there, through to the comments from WAZA members who visited, it was a topic not to be dropped. Constantly referenced throughout the conference as a “bad zoo” and, “a prison”, WAZA stepped up in the Annual General Meeting creating a resolution to close Pata Zoo; working alongside both the Department of National Parks (DNP) and the Zoological Parks Organisation (ZPO) to do so.

Opening this to the floor, the resolution was met with numerous questions and concerns. These ranged from concerns for the keepers through to the animals. One keeper-related question asked about their lives once the zoo has closed as some keepers demonstrated concern for the animals but simply lacked welfare knowledge. Other concerns were more pointed with one voting member bluntly asking if the resolution was, “for animal welfare or for our (WAZA’s) own gratification.”

Others noted the need for action rather than leaving the issue as a resolution. Furthermore, other members were curious as to why this resolution would be made and other similarly poor zoos around the world were neglected.

WAZA addressed all these issues as best they could. Regarding the staff, it was suggested that they would be trained during the closure process as closure would not happen overnight. During the work to close the zoo, improvements would be made to the animal’s current living conditions so that the animals may enjoy a better welfare state and improved quality of life.

Though this all sounds good, the issue here is that it’s still a resolution and may end up not amounting to much. WAZA has stated their intent to work with both the DNP and ZPO to see the matter resolved. However, Pata Zoo is currently not flaunting any Thai welfare laws as the way the animals are kept meet requirements. They are also operating under an official zoo license, which has been given by the DNP and requires the zoo to meet certain standards and again, the zoo is meeting them.

Pata Zoo has been the focus of much controversy among Thai animal welfarists for years, yet nothing has been done. Sadly, we are not convinced anything will happen this time either.

Truth be told, in our opinion Pata Zoo is likely only to be closed if a misdemeanour can be found. WAZA’s resolution does state that there is the possibility of some of the animals in Pata Zoo’s care being illegal. If that is the case then there is a higher chance of an investigation and closure. For Tigers has visited this zoo once a year for the past four years, the very first visit revealing two small leopard cubs kept in a small nursery on the lower level of the zoo. However, on subsequent visits, no leopards -- cubs or adults -- were seen leading us to believe they may have just been traded through. Early this year, a WAZA member visited and also saw a leopard cub in the same nursery area but two months later when For Tigers did their annual check, no leopards were to be seen.

All that being said, we really hope that this proposed collaboration between these three organisations is successful in closing the zoo down and relocating all the animals to species appropriate environments. Usually we do not tend to advocate for shutting down a facility, but rather addressing the issues and solving them. However, no matter how hard anyone tries, the roof of a shopping mall, adjacent to a busy highway, is no place for any animal to live.

We wish WAZA, the DNP and the ZPO the very best in this endeavour and hope to see these animals living under improved conditions very soon.

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