Animal activists are calling for “the world’s loneliest gorilla” to be released from a department store in Thailand.
The gorilla – named Bua Noi – is housed in Pata Zoo at the top of the Pata Pinklao store in the capital of Bangkok. Efforts to secure her release have been ongoing for years. There are fears that her mental and physical health are in decline after 35 years in captivity.
Bua Noi, meaning little lotus, has been alone in her enclosure for more than a decade, following her mate’s death. This fate has earned her the nickname “the world’s loneliest gorilla.” In the wild, gorillas are social animals who enjoy living in large family groups both for survival and stimulation.
Owners of Pata Zoo deny that she, and other animals, are being treated badly. The claim comes despite the fact that they were charged with breaking animal welfare laws in 2015. They also state that Bua Noi is unsuitable for release because she would be unlikely to adapt to a new environment in her senior years (she is 30-plus years old). They cite an inability to cope with unfamiliar pathogens as their chief concern. Though this has been rubbished by animal welfare foundations.
Speaking for animal conservation charity the Aspinall Foundation, Amos Courage said that Bua Noi could be cared for beautifully in a sanctuary. Doubling down on this claim, the foundation has previously offered to foot the bill for moving her to one.
‘Dying of boredom’
Visitors to Pata Zoo have expressed their shock at the conditions that animals are kept in. Many liken the location to a prison, with others calling it “hell on Earth.”
“Every animal at Pata Zoo is enduring a life sentence, something not handed to even the hardest Thai criminals,” Jason Baker, senior vice president at Peta Asia said in a statement. “They could have a meaningful life if they were transferred to a facility that would provide the mental stimulation and physical comfort of the naturalistic environment they need.”
With only a tire swing for enrichment, Bua Noi is frequently seen sitting at the back of her enclosure. From there, the senior gorilla refuses to engage with onlookers. “She’s sitting there dying of boredom,” Edwin Wiek, founder of Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT) notes.
The gorilla’s fate has not gone unnoticed. But despite increasing pressure from animal rights campaigners and celebrities alike (Cher and Gillian Anderson have both called for Bua Noi’s release), no progress has been made.
A glimmer of hope presented itself last month. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment announced its intentions to buy and relocate Bua Noi. However, this was quashed when Pata Zoo claimed that no talks were in progress and no money had been offered.
No place for zoos in a compassionate world
Zoos have long been considered exploitative by animal welfare campaigners, but it appears that the rest of the world may be cottoning on to their ethical costs.
In recent weeks, multiple UK zoos have been forced to admit that the standard of care being given to animals has decreased as a result of the cost of living crisis. At least one, Sealife in Essex, claimed it might be forced to “euthanize” its residents due to untenable costs.
The UK is not alone in allowing captive animals to be mistreated. The case of ironically named Happy the elephant made headlines around the world when a legal bid to move her to a sanctuary failed. As a result, she has been kept at New York’s Bronx Zoo. The location features in the global 10 worst zoos for elephants list.
Focus remains on Bua Noi, but WFFT states that all animals at Pata Zoo need to be rescued urgently.
“The bottom line is the place needs to be closed down. We need to look at a solution for all the animals in the zoo,” Wiek said.
Fellow animal advocacy organization Free the Wild aims to secure the release of captive animals into sanctuaries. It has launched a petition to free “the world’s loneliest gorilla” and you can pledge your support here.