Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Holiday horrors

This poor elephant's right front foot toenails are very overgrown

I know, I’m on holiday – I shouldn’t be blogging, but I feel the need to share a very disturbing experience.
We’re staying in Mallorca, which will make some of you groan. There are loads of pretty uncivilized Brits out here demanding their full English breakfasts, lager round the clock and still wanting to watch all their soaps and footie matches in the numerous Irish bars (we even spotted a Liverpool bar in our travels!)
And when I clocked Rent-a-bike operating next to a lap-dancing bar, I had to smile. There are indeed some areas of the island that are so ravaged by tourism it does feel like you’re in a documentary - but away from the tourist hot-spots there still some wonderful unspoilt places – honestly! Quiet bays, beautiful expensive boats in classy marinas and some breathtaking villas.
As we have two young kids to entertain, we are always on the look out for stimulating days out and a trip to the island’s only Safari-Zoo sounded just the thing.
You could tell from first look it wasn’t the best-resourced establishment. It certainly wasn’t Longleat! But we’d come a long way, so we had to go inside.
For those who don’t have cars, Safari-Zoo provides an open sided vehicle - painted in zebra stripes – to take people around.
We set off directly behind it. The carriages were nearly empty holding only a handful of people, I remember wondering how the place survives, it couldn’t be taking much money– and I’m afraid it showed. The park looked bleak and unloved.
But the zebras were really friendly and you could get very close to all the animals, we put our windows down and gave them a stroke. The zebras followed us for a while; I got the feeling that they don’t get to see that many cars these days - we seemed a bit of a novelty.
The handful of zebras were mixed in with a few wildebeests, and a couple of ostriches. It all seemed a bit random. And there wasn’t much land for anyone, or shade or anything remotely green.
The baboons were next and they seemed very lively. They were excited by the arrival of the zebra-striped train. Monkeys were inside the carriages in a flash and jumping on the roof even though the vehicle was moving quite quickly. It was a hot day and we’d expected most of the animals to be snoozing,
As we came nearer, we saw one of the baboons was now lying in the middle of the road. My husband Graham said perhaps it was a trick by the cheeky monkeys to make us stop. But as we approached it didn’t move, and as we drove around it we could all see it was lying in a pool of fresh blood.
Luckily I had my mobile with me – so I phoned and told them there was a baboon down, expecting a vet to be on the scene very quickly or at least a park official to check it out.
Just then a very angry baboon jumped on our car – giving us a start, she was obviously the matriarch. She was pretty upset by one of her family being injured, so were we.
As we drove on, we never did see anyone rush to the poor monkey’s aid – and the park was very small so we had it in vision for what seemed like ages.
When we finished our upsetting tour we decided to look around the rest of the zoo on foot and I’m afraid things didn’t get any better.
Kieran, my six-year-old son remarked, “Mummy, why do they have such small enclosures? ” Cameron (aged 8) said, “They have nothing to play with – poor things. Someone should close this place down.”
I’m not a vet, but one of the lions looked to be in particularly poor shape, very thin and shaky on his legs.
But the two elephants really did bring a tear to my eye. The space they were in was so small, bare and dull. One of the elephant’s toes looked badly overgrown and they both just looked so very sad.
I made eye contact with so many miserable creatures that day; I really did feel so helpless.
The tannoy announced a magic show was starting soon, and we hoped this would cheer everyone up.
On the way to it, I bumped into the driver of the zebra train and asked for news of the baboon. In front of both children she just said, “It’s dead. They are just so aggressive, always fighting between themselves and jumping on the vehicles.” She seemed so matter of fact, no pretence of regret at a life lost. I wondered to myself if it had committed suicide. How long had it been left on that road?
I spotted our boys’ bottom lips trembling. We hurried them along to the arena, hoping that the magic man could do the trick and restore their holiday spirit.
But it was magic like you probably used to see in the Victorian age, with live animals and dubious contraptions that probably squashed them into small spaces. We watched open-mouthed as birds, rabbits and big cats were used in ways I’m sure that no circus would permit in Britain today.
An hour later, there was another show, only this time just involving big cats. We decided to stick around – was Mallorca the last place on earth to welcome acts that exploited animals?
The big cat show involved three leopards and an elderly female lion. The heavily tattooed promoter seemed to have difficulty keeping them all awake and he held a big stick, which he used repeatedly.
My son Kieran shouted at him to stop hitting the cats, but it made no difference. The cats looked old and lumpy - apart from one young one that still had the spring in its legs to do some stunts. Without the stick they’d have all been fast asleep.
I got the feeling that this bloke probably loved his big cats in a weird way and this was the last place on earth where he could live with them in this strange way. The magic man seemed to live on site, too with his brood. Could Safari Zoo be the last refuge on earth for those who make their living out of dodgy animal acts?
It all felt very uncomfortable. Like stepping back into an era where animals really did have to jump through hoops to earn their dinner.
I can’t see how the Safari Zoo makes enough money to feed their animals, let alone pay for vet fees. Maybe that’s part of the problem. Maybe it needs to turn itself into a sanctuary and ditch any pretext of providing any entertainment. Give the animals back their dignity and try to improve their standards of living by just asking for donations.
Safari Zoo certainly educated our kids to care about animal exploitation – so the day wasn’t a total disaster. I’m pleased to say their instincts were strong and passionate.
I’ll be contacting WSPA to see if they can keep an eye on things, surely I’m not the only person who has left Safari Zoo worrying about the animals’ futures. Let me know if you’ve ever visited or know any more about the zoo.


Badger said...

As far as I can make out most of Europe is like this. Us Brits are just huge animal lovers, almost to the extreme. What makes me laugh is that in Britain fox hunting has been banned (or tried to be) yet in Spain one of their favorite sports is throwing a donkey of the top of a high rise building and watching it fall to its death. I am not joking either, Spain are barbaric when it comes to animals. When I was in France in 2002 we saw a circus drive through town full of animals, lions, and elephants that lived out their days in lorrys.

Badger x

Em said...


Chapstaff said...

How dreadful!

You may not be the only person to leave there horrified....but you're probably the only one who'll bother to contact WSPA

Hope the boys are ok after seeing all that.

Hope it hasn't spoiled your holiday.

Anonymous said...

May be worth contacting the Born Free Foundation

Wendy & Caesar said...

Appalling! About the baboons, try contacting Dr Alison Cronin at Monkey World for advice.

Beverley Cuddy said...

Thanks for all the helpful suggestions - have emailed Alison and will do Born Free and WSPA next.
We've just got home to find a massive wasps nest above the porch! We spent all holiday fishing them out of the pool, so not the best welcome home present!

Beverley Cuddy said...

Pretty impressed, I emailed WSPA USA last night as I couldn't get the UK site to work and have already got a response! See below...

Hi, Beverley,

Thank you for contacting the WSPA.

I'm out of the office on my way to Jamaica to assist WSPA's disaster relief team in helping dogs in the aftermath of Hurricane Dean, and won't be back until September 10.

I've copied Jennifer Brown, our Marketing Assistant above, to ask that she please check with our London headquarters to try to get an answer for you and respond to your inquiry. As you may know, WSPA is the world's largest alliance of animal welfare groups with more than 800 member societies in 147 countries. I'm hoping that our London office may know of a local group that can help the animals in the Safari Zoo. It's a very challenging problem since there are so many poorly run zoos all over the world...Our Canadian office recently had a major victory in getting legislation passed to tighten regulations and oversight of roadside zoos in Canada, after many years of lobbying in that country, exposing bad zoos in the media, and calling for stricter enforcement of animal cruelty laws. One of the things that the WSPA is doing to try to increase recognition and protection for animals around the world is working to pass a Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare at the United Nations. For more information, please visit: www.animalsmatterusa.org

Thanks again for caring about animals. Best regards, Barbara

Chapstaff said...

Well done Beverley, well done WSPA.

What happened to WSPA UK?

I hope they investigate this

Beverley Cuddy said...

More news, I wrote to David Shepherd and had a lovely email back from his daughter Melanie. She's passed on my email to the CEO of Born Free. Just had this email from them:

Dear Beverley
Thank you for your email
I’ve spoken with our Zoocheck team, who are aware of this Safari Zoo in Mallorca; we receive lots of complaints about this.
They will be in contact shortly, as soon as they have more information about the place and who you can contact to report your concerns to.

I hope this is of help

Warmest Regards


Not heard back from WSPA UK yet, but it sounds like this zoo is on everyone's radar.