In spring "young life" lures large crowds into the zoo. In autumn, when things become quiet, death arrives. The practices that no-one knows.
By Bert Huisjes (Algemeen Dagblad Magazine, November 13, 1999 ; sub-headings renewed)
"I'll trade in anything"
Five pair of eyes blink into the light when the door of the rusty horsetrailer swings open. Complaints about chicken wandering around free have directed inspectors of the AID (Dutch governmental Animal Inspection Service) to a house in Brummen, in the province of Gelderland, on a day in August. In the back yard an unexpected find is made in the trailer: in a cage made from concrete slabs, five adult baboons (Papio hamadryas, Lat.) crawl together in fear. "The smell was beyond words", inspector Jan Reijngoud says. "The animals must have been inside there for months. There was a huge layer of shit, they hung in the fence to try and stay dry. One female monkey had only a small stump of her tail left. Another monkey had grown crooked, as if it had been living in too small a cage for years on. A third monkey had its guts hanging out. Their only access to water was a bowl outside the cage that they could grab for." Owner of the baboons is 34 years old Bernard E., a merchant. "I'll trade in anything", he explains. "Scrap iron, rafters, animals. Look here, I had five hundred geese, the other guy had five baboons. Seemed like a good deal to me." According to him the monkeys came from Belgium and had only been kept in the cage for a few days yet. "They were only here for a short while for a film shot". To the managing director of the AAP Foundation David van Gennep they are the hundred-somethingth guests. "Film shots", he sneers. "Those baboons were much too frightened and agressive. They have been dumped, probably come from a zoo and consequently ended up in the rag-and-bone business.
Dutch zoos are keeping a secret
They breed animals, but regularly don't have enough space for them. The "young life in the zoo" that attracts millions of parents and children every year and often brings the gardens extensive media exposure, is hard to get rid of. Even in zoos animals are born of which it is known in advance that there'll be no room for them. Such animals are called "the overspill". What is prohibited in Germany, happens in almost every Dutch zoo: protected animals, young as well as old ones, are being put to sleep if the zoo cannot find a place for them elsewhere. Monkeys, felines, bears, antelopes -species sometimes of endangered wildlife- await a bullet or a deadly injection. What can be eaten, is being fed to the predators. Next to that, both living as well as dead animals disappear into the trade circuit. Or they are being dumped, far away, in zoological gardens in Sofia, Caïro and the Ukraine; they never seem to become overcrowded. It is the different reality in gardens where, for the public, bears are being called sweet names such as Vetje "little fat-one" or Oogje "little eye", while behind the scenes cheetahs disappear (Dierenpark Amersfoort). Animals have "little babies", as cheerful leaflets put it, and polarbear cubs are called Taco and Winner, but nobody gets to hear that young monkeys are being sold to Czechia or Poland (Diergaarde Blijdorp, Rotterdam). In the annual report it is called "memorable that the spider monkeys have babies", but the public is not made aware that due to "overpopulation" white-snout nosebears end up in the freezer (Noorder Dierenpark, Emmen).
What choices after all does a zoological garden have with redundant animals?
that's a major problem", says zoobroker or merchant
in zoo-animals John Hop from Ermelo. "Male animals
f.i. are in a delicate position anyhow. As soon as they
grow older they menace the group. Many animals live
in groups with one male. But just as many males as females
are born. What that means? Dont't ask me." A veterinary
surgeon who works for large zoo, anonimously, says:
"That can mean you send a bullet through their
head, in order to be able to feed them to the predators
because after putting them to sleep, you can't. It is
still a taboo. If it concerns monkeys, bears or lions
emotion turns up as a factor. It is pitiful than. But
people do eat meat themselves, that's hypocrisy."
It is a remarkable breach, the one with the zoobrokers.
During tenths of years they were the solid business
partners of every park. The broker supplied the animals.
In autumn he came and collected all the overspill. On
German television a 1995 program by journalist Stephan
Eckhart showed this practice for the very first time.
Young bears and tigers were being collected from respected
zoos. In order to meet the prohibition on killing them
in Germany itself, they were transported to Belgium.
A secret camera recorded how the animals were shot dead
at a knackery. This practice still continues. Dutch
zoos too have historical bonds with skinners. "There
were bad experiences", managing director A. Dorresteyn
of Blijdorp explains the turning down of brokers. "Animals
went to different destinations than was agreed upon".
That way a young rhino of the Safaripark Beekse Bergen
(Hilvarenbeek) vanished after having been deported to
Spain by a zoobroker. "The animal was later discovered
in a circus, where it trotted about with a partyhat
on.", says safaripark director Wim Verberkmoes.
To the taxidermist (skinner) and questionable zoos
Animal attendant Ria is
willing to talk, but without making mention of her name.
"Everybody has nasty experiences, but to talk about
it is not done, than you're out of it. It is a beautiful
profession, and for each attendant ten others are waiting."
She tells about two old bears, shop servants. Noorder
Dierenpark made its apologies for some time: the animals
could not be removed from their old den for that would
mean their death. "Later a sign was put up that
said they'd been taken into some breeding programme
elsewhere. In fact they went to the skinner".
Sometimes a certain animal species comes out of fashion
The popularity of each animal species can be clearly read from the long list with overspill and the wishes that the EAZA-zoos send each other. It is a confidential list, eagerly wanted by merchants, by means of which zoos try to promote exchanges. The summing up of animals that gardens want to get rid of is enormous. Gerard Baars, director of Ouwehands Dierenpark in Rhenen: "Sometimes you have them listed that way for years on, and never get any reaction." Obvious causes for the surplusses can by the way be pointed at. "Zoos want larger groups of one species", says broker Hop. "That means other species are being cleared away. Moreover animals get out of fashion. People by now know the bear, chimpanzee or Java-monkey." And next to that there are the breeding programmes (EEP's). To participate in them means status. So zoos replace non-thoroughbred animals by true-bred ones. The non-thoroughbred disappear to smaller gardens, to Africa and Eastern European countries, or to merchants who think it'll pay, dead or alive. "And if replacing redundant animals takes too much money, they are being euthanised. They go for the cheapest solution", says Hop. "Many zoos have a hard time making both ends meet".
The number of hybrids (bastards) and inbred-animals in the European zoos is enormous. Even cross-breeding of lions and tigers occurs: the ligers. In many cases the zoo-variant genetically only has a whimp of its wild congener. Dorresteyn of Blijdorp zoo: "Through decades breeding was done at random. If a couple could have offspring, is was allright. So you see bastards of Siberian and Sumatran tigers, of Sumatran orang-oetans mixed with the ones from Borneo. At present the zoos let them extinguish." Amongst the bastards specifically giraffes, zebra's and lions are the meltingpots of species and underspecies that no-one is waiting for. Yet 'ashtray-lions' are still being born, in Burgers Zoo for instance. "We've been looking for years already if we can get rid of the lion troupe", zoo manager Joep Wensing says. "Impopular species we'd like to loose".
It is the dilemma of the modern Zoo
The zoological gardens claim to strive for the maintenance of animal species, for that reason the breeding programmes exist. It is a "Noah's Arc" plan: when a species is about to extinguish in the wild, still some of them are being kept in the zoo and may be can be placed back in the wilderness someday. Therefore it is tried to establish animals that genetically look a lot like their congeners in wildlife. Placing such animals back into real nature is by the way no easy job: many projects woefully fail. The noble motivations on the other hand also result in high numbers of protected animals, such as tigers, becoming redundant due to the fact that they are not pure-bred. The largest gardens meanwhile brought back the number of bastards to a minimum, by way of export and euthanasia. Other gardens are still filled up with them. The vet: "A liger is the best example, that is a monster of nature. But our raccoons are also crap genetically, theirs is a dying story. Killing them is not yet necessary, the room they occupy is not yet needed to house other animals. But in fact you leave them there in the interest of the attendants who are emotionally tied up with them".
A good lion is a dead lion
A great many zoos by the way actively breed raccoons. Merchants can easily place them: common people have discovered the animal. In terms of business a good lion is ever so often a dead lion. Also a dead tiger or bear raises more money than a living one. In Belgium specialised buyers of zoo-animals are active, who collect the animals from all over Europe. In Liège the "warehouse" of Jean-Pierre Gerard is based. In a barak on the outskirt of the town he shoots lions, tigers, bears and antelopes. For their fur, their meat or their heads. Bear meat is a delicacy in Eastern Germany, impala sells well within luxurious catering. The animals are being skinned, their skins sold. To Holland amongst other countries, f.e. the company of Jacques Boute in Venlo where animal heads are being stuffed and their skins serve as floormats. The skins come with a statement that the animal was born in a zoo. Another address like this is that of one of the biggest merchants Louis Lenaerts in Wortel, just across the Belgian border, a couple of kilometres from Breda. Lenaerts is one of the main merchants. In case he can sell an animal, or in case he sees opportunities to breed with it, it stays alive. If not, the creature gets a bullet (small calibre, in order to avoid too much damage to the skin). The skins he sells. A stuffed lion? "That can be arranged. For five thousand guilders (€ 2.250). Lenaerts used to buy animals from Dutch zoos many years on. But since it is supposed that he was the main character in the German television documentary ("Some people have recognized him" a managing director of a zoo says), directors have become reluctant to do business with him. Also with small Belgian zoos like Olmense Zoo and St. Niklaas, where Lenaerts used to lodge his animals, no official contacts exist anymore. Nevertheless Lenaerts whereabouts are not illegal. Only once the ministry of Justice was able to put a claim against him. That was in recent years, when he slaughtered four young tigers. On that crucial moment there was a police raid on his premises. He was fined; Lenaerts had no permit to slaughter.
Objective of merchants like Lenaerts >is money, much money
what extent the trade in overspill bears and tigers is
financially interesting, is known to Tom de Meulenaar
of Traffic Europe, TE being the bureau that tries to register
the trade in exotic animals. "Overspill is a business
on its own. The largest part of the market is formed by
the derived products. Skins, bones, organs. Skins go to
taxidermists, carcasses to China or Taiwan to become ingredients
in traditional medicine. Fortunes are being paid for these
CITES: international rules for endangered animal species
The section of the Ministery of Agriculture is situated opposite Dordrecht's Central Station. Here the bureau resides that controls the performance of the Cites-treaty, a number of international rules against the eradication of endangered animals and plants. A small team closely watches the trade. The officers screen every permit application by means of lists. List # 1 mentions the animals that are so highly endangered that no trade in them is allowed and also they are not allowed to be kept. The list contains all tigers, a great number of monkeys, lynxes, antelopes, birds and amphibians. On the second list animals are mentioned for which trade is allowed in a very limited way only: wolves, foxes, antelopes, bisons but also monkeys, birds and the ant eater. The zoos in Holland are in an extraordinary position. Members of the NVD receive a "general exempt" for the keeping and breeding of endangered animals. In exchange they must yearly report how many animals they keep. But it turns out to be a simple bookkeeping at the Ministery. Reports are incomplete or lacking. Some gardens did report for a while after receiving their eagerly awaited permit, but concerning the past few years there is nothing (Apenheul in Apeldoorn, Noorder Dierenpark). Diergaarde Blijdorp, a zoo that receives an annual nine million guilders worth of government payments, has not even once in all those years stated its responsibilities on the number of endangered animals inside its zoo. And this whereas at the same time Blijdorp together with the Noorder Dierenpark, requires the largest number of exportlicenses compared to all other zoos. Other zoos never seem to need permits; Dierenpark Amersfoort only applies for them when it delivers dead animals to the trade. To take a view on the list of import and export licenses dating back before 1997, is "technically impossible". A new computersystem caused that all the older data cannot be read anymore. An employee of the Cites-bureau raises his shoulders; checking up on zoölogical gardens has no priority, the bureau receives 13.000 applications every year.
Was it not possible to have a better supervision?
That question rises after a dive
in the papers that are still present. On the 10th of
December 1998 Burgers Zoo requests for a permit for
the exportation of eleven chimpanzees. That is odd.
The annual report namely states that no single chimp
has been exported. Upon checking the permit, it turns
out that the destination was the Laboratory of the University
of Zürich (Switzerland): ten dead chimpanzeebodies
and one foetus. Purpose: science. According to Burgers
Zoo the animals are destined for genetical research.
Within short a new application will follow, this time
for fourteen chimps. Burgers Zoo is not the only garden
that delivers to science. In 1994 six rare Goeldi-monkeys,
alive this time, went on transport from Apenheul to
the primates centre that is related to the same university,
director L. de Boer of Apenheul says. "Not for
biomedical tests, but for behavioural research".
Although for the sake of conservation of nature zoos
do not acquire animals from the wilderness, a clever
garden knows more than one trick. In 1998 Apenheul wanted
to have very rare bonobo-apes. Only a hundred of them
live in captivity, and no garden that owns them wants
to let them go. Prices for bonobos therefore go up to
a million Dutch guilders each (€ 454.000.-). Therefore
his "happiness" was great when managing director
L. de Boer could get hold of six laboratory animals
(three pair of them) in Zaïre, stemming from a
"biomedical" research institute in Kinshasa.
Laboratory animals that were to have a new life in Apeldoorn,
could anything be better? But: is the Apenheul zoo a
saviour now, or does this show a U-turn construction
in order to lay hands on wild catch? The permit is slightly
revealing. Under "source" it says "W",
which means: all animals have been collected from the
wild by merchants. It is an old tric. Years ago in this
way Burgers Zoo "rescued" seven gorillas originating
from Cameroun from the hands of a merchant. The transaction
had a value of a quarter of a million guilders. International
criticism followed. "They did come from a shady
background", Burgers Zoo admits. "We were
asked for shelter and are quite pleased with them."
does not occur,
the official statements say. Only in the case of old animals,
or disease. Nevertheless in the paperwork you stumble
over amazing cases of death; is it really no worse than
"shaking eggs"? The very much endangered "mane
wolf" (Chrysocyon brachyurus) in Blijdorp gives birth
to six cubs, but the entire nest dies according to the
annual report (1998). In the Noorder Dierenpark the "springbokken"
(Antidorcas marsupialis) have seventeen foals, all of
them die. And that the midget goat is not a protected
animal, is for a fact. Thirty three of them are being
liquidated. Appetizing menu for the predators, Noorder
Dierenpark admits. In Beekse Bergen, another large zoo,
into the troupe of fifteen lions six cubs are born in
1997. No one survives. In Dierenpark Amersfoort a cheetah,
famous for the high speeds it can develop once on the
loose, whelps a nest of six young. The young will never
reach any speed, they die, and so do two adult cheetahs.
The "deathlist" of the park helps out: five
male and one female DESTROYED, it says. One animal is
missing in the administration, which is a common experience
with all parks. On the deathlist of the Noorder Dierenpark
it is easy to see how in 1995 a group of seven white-snout
nosebears (belonging to the family of the "coati's")
head for Bear Heaven. On January 25, three of them are
put into the freezer. On February 22 and April 20 the
rest of them follow. Cases of death caused by overpopulation,
the park says afterwards. On the long list, every month
some fifteen animals are booked out. The list also describes
lemurs: they watch eight colleagues being chilled till
under zero degrees centigrade. And the wolves that Theo
van Hilst worried about, show up too. Burgers Zoo counts
six dead bodies in 1995, three of them have been taxidermied
(stuffed) and the head of another one is a wall-ornament
Traffic Europe, the organisation that maps the trade in endangered animals, is worried about the fate of zoo animals. Director Tom de Meulenaar says in his Brussels headquarters: "There is a gigantic hole in the law. Controls are being made on animals that come from wildlife, but in the case of breeding in captivity the regulations are a flop. That leads to fraud of course, because you can misuse a zoo animal in order to "launder" a wild one. You make sure the animal from the zoo's collection disappears, and transfer its documents to a wild one. Such an animal stemming from wildlife has intensely desired genetical material to breed with, and it can become an object of trade without any limit." Someone who registers an animal with such genes with the EEP-register, gets a very warm welcome. Also old or ugly looking animals or the ones of the wrong sex or mongrels, can relatively simple change into animals of better quality. Even identification chips are no problem. They are taken from dead animals, and administered to wild ones. Directors of zoölogical gardens admit that the trade of wildlife involves much money. "It is a billion business", Dorresteyn of Blijdorp says. "When a merchant offers 50.000 dollar to a garden in the former East bloc, resistance is hardly possible. Over there, that's a fortune só big a garden can be in business a whole year on such an income." Gerard Baars, Ouwehands Dierenpark, already even signalizes trade traffic in forgeries of almost extinct species. "We notice that a merchant buys animals from European zoos who ressemble the Amur-panther. Only a couple of tens of this panther are still alive in the wild. The are being shipped to North Korea, transformed, and supplied with a certificate of origine. After that they are being re-offered for sale for large sums." In the Netherlands most brokers and merchants are still fully in business. John Hop claims to render services to numerous animal gardens. "At Ouwehands I collected bears. They went to Lenaerts." Hop also knows about the bears that worried animal attendant Ria mentioned. "They too have gone to Lenaerts." The managing director of Noorder Dierenpark, Henk Hiddingh, says: "The bears have been collected by Lenaerts, that is right, but they were supposed to go to a Belgian zoo. No, no highly qualified garden, I have to admit."
The managing director of Artis, Th. Frankenhuis, made headlines some time ago when he suggested there are two good reasons to have tigers give birth in zoos. Reason one: it's fun to have cubs. Reason two: the cubs can subsequently be sold in parts and pieces to the Chinese pharmaceutical industry, which would spare the lives of tigers living in the wild. Although Frankenhuis drew a storm on his head, his remarks are characteristic for a change in thoughts on this subject. More and more zoos tend to the policy of having their animals give birth, in order to : kill the offspring some time later. Gerard Baars of Ouwehands: "It is not the rule yet. But in Denmark it is daily practice. I dare to openly defend it. "Hiddingh of Noorder Dierenpark: "Frankenhuis uttered matters a bit wild. But in principle the idea is a good one. We must explain to the public that death is a part of zoo life, that anything is better than the trade in animals or some slum park." The veterinary surgeon: "The gardens must be open. No secrets. Just explain things in the daily children's-news-broadcasts." The AID (Governmental Inspection Service on animals) is not fond of the idea. "Your feeling says: this cannot be done. Yet there is nothing we can do against it. The rules do not forbid it", inspector Reijngoud says. Frankenhuis himself is reluctant to gather publicity once more. The sponsors who have adopted animals in Artis, were out of their wits when they heard his suggestions. "Holland is not ready for it yet", he now says. "In the United States meanwhile the public even forbids zoos to feed living mice and crickets. There is an enormous discrepancy between what people do themselves and what they consider can be allowed. In wholesale you come across as many as five kinds of antelope steaks and crocodile tails. That is tasty, that is chic."
Outside the reception centre of the AAP
Foundation in Almere is a small brick building. Inside
five baboons are kept in quarantine for weeks already
now. "A miserable bunch", director David van
Gennep mutters. "The one with the tongue hanging
from its mouth is mentally handicapped. That other one
is pigeon-breasted, never seen it so bad." He sighs.
"This does not look good." Where the apes came
from, is not yet clear than. According to Van Gennep animals
like these will continue to pop up as long as there is
no solid registration for every individual animal. "I
plead for animal accountancy. Isn't it horrible when animals
that were a zoo's main attraction in spring, are kept
in a Russian laboratory with electrode equipment on their
heads a year later?" A week later the missing data
are available. It is almost certain that the apes come
from Belgium. "We received Lenaerts' name."
The worst news comes with the results of the health tests.
"One animal was tested positive on Herpes-B, the
others are questionable. Someone who is being spat upon
by an ape in that condition, wil inevitably die, that
disease proces is irreversible." Bernard E. ran a
high risk. What will happen with the animals, still remains
a question. "We have to think deeply about their
future. Maybe we should kill them. An animal who is infected
with Herpes is highly dangerous."