Arya Dipa, Bandung – Thousands of animals living in Indonesian zoos are facing the threat of famine as management struggles to afford animal feed as would-be visitors stay home to contain the spread of COVID-19.
A survey conducted by the Indonesian Zoo Association (PKBS) this month showed that 92 percent of the association's members in Sumatra, Java, Bali, Lombok and Borneo – 55 zoos – had stocks to feed their animals only until mid-May.
The survey also showed that only three zoos would be able to provide food for one to three months, while only two had enough for more than three months.
The zoos within the association house more than 70,000 animals from 4,912 species endemic to Indonesia and those from other parts of the world. The captive animals include protected species such as the Sumatran tiger, the Bornean orangutan, the Sumatran elephant and the anoa.
"Not all zoos receive money from the government. Some are privately owned and rely on the revenue from ticket sales," PKBSI spokesperson Sulhan Syafi'i told The Jakarta Post on Friday.
The association's secretary-general Tony Sumampau said four zoos recently signed up to join the PKBSI so they could solicit the government's help. In order to register for PKBSI membership, zoos must have contingency plans for unexpected risk in the future.
"We do have a contingency plan – but only for one to two months. It has been already a month since zoos started seeing zero attendance as a result of COVID-19," said Tony.
The association has written to President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and related ministries and agencies, asking the government to pay more attention to the condition and welfare of zoos and other conservation centers during the outbreak.
In the meantime, members are sharing strategies with each other regarding animal feed management, including reducing the amount given to the animals and changing the composition of the feed.
Sulhan, who is also a member of the management of the Bandung Zoological Garden in West Java, said zoos could feed their animals for up to four months by using alternative foods.
"For example, we used to feed a leopard every two days with three to four kilograms of [beef and mutton]. For now, we've changed its diet to beef and chicken."
This change has been implemented by zoos that house many carnivorous animals, such as Taman Safari Indonesia (TSI) in Bogor, West Java, which has 134 carnivores including Javan leopards, lions and cheetahs. The zoo has stopped importing meat to feed them.
"The tigers usually eat six days a week, but now we only feed them five days. It is possible that we will only feed them four days a week if conditions remain like this," said Tony who is also the director of TSI.
The Environment and Forestry Ministry's biodiversity conservation director, Indra Exploitasia, said zoos were required to feed animals according to the animal welfare protocols stipulated in a 2019 ministerial regulation on conservation centers.
"Some zoos have tried to adapt to the difficulties, such as by adjusting the frequency of feeding and changing food composition without diminishing nutrient value," she said.
Indra said the ministry had sent letters to the coordinating economic minister, the finance minister and the home minister regarding tax relaxations for zoo management. "We're preparing the legal basis to deliver government aid to zoos affected by COVID-19."
However, she acknowledged the possibility of sacrificing zoos' herbivores to feed carnivores with the ministry's permission.
If authorities decided to take such measures, the zoo would have to ensure that the sacrificed animals were, among other criteria, not endemic or protected species and had the ability to breed quickly.
"This should only be the last resort," Indra went on to say. "We don't want that to happen. We hope the pandemic will be over soon." (aly)