Fired up to free 'Bua Noi'

Fired up to free 'Bua Noi'

A recent fire at the zoo operated by the Pata department store where "Bua Noi", or "Little Lotus" the gorilla is being kept in captivity serves as a wake-up call regarding the safety of an animal who has been there for most of her life.

The small fire erupted in one section of the zoo on April 15. Fortunately, it was put out quickly, leaving only smoke. The authorities suspected an electrical short circuit sparked the blaze. There were no reports of any animals being injured, or if the zoo, which has been temporarily closed because of the city's lockdown, has been badly damaged.

Bua Noi has been a source of controversy since this zoo opened in 1983 on the store's sixth and seventh floor. Each year, conservationists and animal lovers in Thailand and abroad launch campaigns to free the gorilla, who is the star of the place, arguing a tall concrete building is not the right habitat for Bua Noi and other animals, especially in the event of fire.

Pata Zoo obtained Bua Noi in 1992 at a time when Thailand was not party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and the national conservation law was still lenient. Also known as "Pata King Kong", Bua Noi is the country's sole gorilla.

Over the years, the store's management has resisted calls for Bua Noi's release, claiming the gorilla has been well kept, and arguing she is too old to adjust to the wild. In one interview with local media, the management said that the zoo is maintaining corporate social responsibility (CSR), as it allocates money and manpower to Bua Noi's care, and helps cultivate a love of animals in children.

The management also argued that the zoo was designed to make evacuation possible if there is a fire. It also claimed the facility conducts regular fire drills but it's unclear if it has allowed outsiders to observe them. In another report, the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation said it sends officials to inspect the zoo on a yearly basis and they had found the animals' welfare to be "acceptable". Obviously, the state agency has no interest in pursuing the release of Bua Noi to her natural habitat.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), a key organisation spearheading calls for Bua Noi's release, cited the fire to support its long-standing demands. In a letter to this newspaper, it pointed out that the Pata building was already old, expressing its hope that the fire "will prompt the government to look into its safety and shut it -- and the zoo -- down for good".

Peta also conceded that Bua Noi and other animals in captivity may not survive in their natural habitats. Now that Bua Noi is nearly 30, Peta said a special sanctuary would suit her better and it stands ready to help with the move.

The transfer will require a lot of money and multi-party efforts, starting with finding the right sanctuary where Bua Noi can spend her remaining years. The hard part is securing consent from store management. But if they really are concerned about CSR, sending "Little Lotus" to a better place would be the best option. It should start by consenting to her freedom, and allowing others to help carry out this noble task.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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