Rowanvale Books’ author Christine Duts speaks openly about her heartfelt campaign to close Santiago Zoo, in an effort to protect basic animal rights. We ask that you take just five minutes to read her affecting story.
Twelve years ago, I went to the zoo in Santiago for the first time. There was a tiger and a bear, both in tiny cages. This bear had the saddest face I had ever seen, and the tiger was always pacing back and forth in frustration. He ignored every visitor that came to see him and just kept on pacing, but when I approached him, something happened. He stopped pacing, looked at me and lay down where I was standing. I came back on other occasions, and he always did the same: ignoring everyone else while pacing continuously, but when I came, he lay down by my side. When I moved to the other side of the cage to sit on a bench, he got up again, followed me and lay down at my feet. It was such a magical moment, and I knew that a bond had been forged. I made a promise to that tiger; I promised that I would find a way to get him out of there. Unfortunately, I did not know how – and after a few years I returned to Belgium.
I never forgot about that tiger, and when I finally returned to Los Cabos, I asked about him. When I heard that he had died of starvation, it broke my heart. I had not kept my promise… The bear had also died. In 2013, I started looking at ways to help those animals in the Santiago Zoo. It was in the December that I went back for the first time in many years to take photos. There were fewer animals there, and the ones that were left were living in horrible conditions. There was a lioness now, and she was extremely thin. She just lay there, depressed and miserable.
This zoo is a place of misery, starvation, filth, disease, and depression. Animals live in small, dirty cages with cement floors. I have seen animals with advanced infections and no visible treatment.
Where is the veterinarian? Why does he not take care of them? The spider monkey belongs to a species that is in danger of extinction and, for that reason alone, it cannot be locked up in such horrible conditions. The badger is extremely frustrated and angry; the macaw is the only surviving macaw of many others and it is the saddest bird I have ever seen. The water of the duck pond is filthy, and there are many feces smeared on the walls of the bird cages. They are dark and dirty. The raven is losing its feathers and has infected skin; the coyotes are always afraid and one of them paces continuously; the python´s enclosure is much too small; the spider monkey, a companion animal, lives all alone in its cage and is craving love and attention. It is bored and needs to be with other spider monkeys. The coati is frustrated and lonely; the foxes are lethargic, and the wild cats are usually growling angrily at each other.
I contacted animal rights organizations that are known internationally, but their responses were vague and it took me a long time to establish useful contacts. In May 2014 the lion finally died… and at that point I began my campaign, still not having had any help from organizations like Peta or HSI, but unwilling to wait any longer. The campaign was received very well by the locals. Most, if not almost all, wanted the zoo closed. I made a proposal towards anything that could be done with the place, once the zoo was closed down – a proposal that would bring more income to the local town and which would require little investment: the creation of a kids’ recreational center, with football and basketball courts, camping, theatre, workshops, cultural activities, etc. I had a meeting with the Director of Ecology, who also turned out to be the Zoo Director. He appeared to be very enthusiastic about my ideas and gave me the impression that he was completely involved. He promised he would talk to the Mayor and offer a proposal.
I left this meeting with my hopes up, but later realized that it had been a waste of time. The Director of Ecology never meant a word he said, and I never heard from him again. He ignored my calls and emails, and, eventually, I gave up on him. Through the campaign I met a woman who became my strongest ally, and she and I got a meeting with Profepa, the judicial wildlife protection agency, on 11 June.
We spoke to the Director who told us that “this case was already open, due to other complaints filed”. We were going to file an official complaint as well, but since Profepa’s director told us that “the case was already open“, and “that we should not think that Profepa does not do anything”, we believed him and did not file a complaint, naturally assuming that they were doing their job. I sent a letter in which I suggested several sanctuaries for different animals. He stamped the letter in receipt and gave us a copy. He told us that they would get all the animals out, but that they needed time and discretion for such a task. He also said that the Mayor “had had his opportunity, and that it was too late for him now – that now it was out of his hands”. He asked us for discretion, in order to get the animals out “without interference from the Mayor”. It was a strange request, but since he represented an official governmental institution that is supposed to protect wildlife, we continued.
I collected donations for the spider monkey’s trip to its sanctuary, and for the other animals too. After a few weeks I realized that Profepa were also wasting our time, that they had told us half-truths or just lied to us, and that they would not lift a finger for the animals. They took advantage of our lack of experience with official institutions (or our lack of experience with dishonesty?) and effectively stalled us indefinitely. Although the population of Los Cabos, La Paz, and Santiago want the zoo closed, the mayor does not want to close the zoo, and the director of ecology and Profepa do not seem interested in helping the animals either. In this zoo, 90% of the animals have died there over the last 30 years. The tiger, the bear, and several lions have all starved to death. One visitor told me that she saw a lion having no choice but to lie in his own urine and excrement. It did not even have the strength to lift its body – no will to live, no will to do even the most basic things. Someone else said that she watched a visitor giving the spider monkey a coke…
It is a sad, depressing place. A prison for animals, which is mistakenly called a “zoo”, and the authorities want this zoo to be kept open. Articles have appeared in local newspapers, stating that work will be done and that the zoo will be improved and become an ecology park, but that needs a lot of investment, and they do not even have trained staff to look after the animals. The work was supposed to have started in July, but nothing has been done. Similar projects were proposed in previous years, but never realized. We are being asked to remain quiet, to believe these “articles”.
We have found beautiful sanctuaries for the animals, raised some money for their transportation, and made a viable and lucrative proposal for the zoo once it has been closed. All we need is the documents and a signature from Profepa, but they do not seem to want to do their job. Nobody seems to want to do their job. How many more animals have to die for the authorities to see sense and do what they are paid to do? Why so many lies? For what purpose do they want this misery to continue? Why are they not listening to their citizens, who want the zoo closed and the animals sent to sanctuaries? How is it possible that a place like Los Cabos, where so much money flows in, boasting many five star exclusive hotels, private beach homes owned by Hollywood stars, and world class golf courses, insists on keeping such a miserable animal prison? I just don’t understand the insistence on cruelty. What educational value is there for our children? There is none.
For more information on Santiago Zoo please watch the following video:
If you feel, as Christine does, that these animals deserve a better home then please, help make a difference by signing the petition:
http://goo.gl/xZinT7 (Note: Your browsers translate function must be turned on for English language speakers)
Please note that the views expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily of Rowanvale Books or any of its staff.
If you’ve been affected by what you’ve read today then we urge you to pick up a copy of A Right to Live, Christine Duts’ upcoming novel, in which she explores further the treatment of animals living in Mexico. Her story centres around Rusty, a young puppy, who is faced with the struggle against homelessness and hunger that many dogs in Central America must battle with on a daily basis. The book will be available in all eBook formats from the 31st August – you can read more about the novel at: