Little can be done about the 33-year-old gorilla who lives in a small cage in a Bangkok shopping mall if the owner refuses to let it go, the authorities say.
Natural Resources and Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-archa says “Pata Zoo’s promised to take care of her until her last days. And as her owner, it has the right to do so,” Varawut said. “In principle, we cannot take what belongs to them. So, I’ve said that many things need to be settled first.”
The minister was speaking in response to a statement posted on Pata Zoo’s Facebook page, which said there were no plans to sell the gorilla as claimed by Varawut’s secretary, Thaneadpon Thanaboonyawat.
Bua Noi has spent 30 years in a 20-by-10-metre cage in the zoo located on the top floor of Bangkok’s oldest shopping mall – Pata Pinklao Department Store.
Noticing the gorilla’s sad state, Australian national Jodi Broad launched a campaign on Change.org called “Save Gorilla Little Lotus (Bua Noi)” some nine years ago. As of Sunday afternoon, 116,942 netizens had signed the campaign, though Broad had hoped for support from 150,000 people to step up pressure on the zoo’s management.
“We need the world to help us convince the owner of the Pata high-rise shopping mall zoo to release Little Lotus and the other primates into better environments with family groups of their own kind. They live alone, in a world of concrete and steel, with zero stimulation. A life of boredom and solitude for our great primate cousins is the cruellest fate of all… please sign and share our petition,” Broad’s plea reads.
Information about the petition may be seen at https://www.change.org/p/save-gorilla-trapped-in-shopping-mall-zoo-for-30-years-help-find-homes-for-little-lotus-and-other-primates-living-in-steel-concrete-cages-with-no-sunshine
On Saturday, Thaneadpon told reporters that Varawut was planning to repatriate Bua Noi to a zoo in Germany where she was born, but Pata Zoo had put the price of her relocation at 30 million baht.
He said the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry has received complaints from visitors and wildlife activists about Bua Noi’s condition and admitted that she deserves a better life.
Pata Zoo bought the gorilla from Germany in 1992 for 3 million baht when she was three years old. A gorilla’s lifespan is 40 to 50 years on average, the secretary said, adding that the ministry hoped she could spend the rest of her days with her species.
However, the zoo responded to Thaneadpon’s statement by saying no Pata executive had made any agreements with anyone or any agency to sell Bua Noi.
It also said that store executives had rejected the plan to relocate Bua Noi as earlier requested by the ministry because she is too old to adjust to new environs. It also said she is well looked after and claims to spend about 10,000 baht per month on her care.
The management also claims to hold regular meetings about the primate’s well-being, as “we are aware that Bua Noi, Thailand’s last gorilla, can die at any time due to her old age”.
Meanwhile, Varawut said on Sunday that the “free Bua Noi” campaign began before he became environment minister in 2019 and that discussions between the ministry and the zoo had been held many times before he took over. Hence, he said, he cannot comment on Pata Zoo’s latest statement about the gorilla.
He added that his ministry was well aware that experts, both local and foreign, will have to be consulted and many preparations made before Bua Noi is returned to the wild.
“We won’t make a decision on our own. Many steps have to be taken and that will take time,” he said.
Varawut also called on all zoos in Thailand, both public and private, to take good care of their animals and ensure they are kept in an environment that is closest to their natural habitat.