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Sunday, September 15, 2013

Surabaya isn't famous for much. Lonely Planet touts it as a city that "for most, is merely a place to change planes, trains or buses". It's dirty. Smelly, in parts. And severely lacking in typical amusements which an exchange student can get herself up to on a sun-baked Saturday afternoon.

So one of my stops on such a day was KBS, or the Surabaya zoo. It seemed like a dirty little secret among my circle of Indonesian friends and family; I had only heard about it through overly optimistic internet articles about tourist attractions in Surabaya. When I asked around, people generally had the reaction that the zoo was 'nice, but a little dirty'. Nothing short of a condemnation, coming from an Indonesian.

Morbidly famous for its high mortality rate, horrid living conditions, and to some for the death of a giraffe who was found to have about 44 pounds of undigested plastic in its stomach, Kebun Binatang Surabaya was both as bad and not as bad as I expected. 

For one, the friend that I went with bought peanuts to feed the animals before we even entered the zoo. To an American used to strict bans on feeding zoo animals any type of food, this was not the best first sign.

The monkeys seemed a little too eager to grab for peanuts. Not seeing a source of food anywhere other than some rotting bananas on the concrete floor of his enclosure, I was kind of sickened to realize that the monkeys were perhaps intentionally not given enough food so they would beg from zoo visitors.

... Or I may be way off base here and this might have been an exceptionally greedy monkey. Who knows.

Yep, that's a tiger in the corner. Poor baby, hip bones poking out and a nasty look in his eye, was pacing incessantly. His entire enclosure was made of hosed-down concrete.

The deer, warthog and other hooved animal exhibits were crowded and dirty. One even had an unexpected guest (stray cats really ARE everywhere in Indonesia). The actual animals were gorgeous, though, I loved the deer. They all came over and jostled for attention when I hesitantly stuck my hand through the wide space between their cage bars. Not something I would do in an American zoo, if that were even possible, but hey. When in Rome, right? 

 By far the saddest exhibit, though, were the elephants. In a huge contrast from Thailand and even the other zoo I visited in Indonesia, where they seemed to treat the animals with at least a decent level of respect, the elephants in KBS were chained at each foot and had to bounce back and forth in order to move at all.

There were two on display: a baby and its mama. I can imagine that the only exercise they really get is when they're saddled up to give rides to visitors, but since I never saw that actually happening I can't say for sure. The lack of fences in their exhibit and no apparent space for them to actually walk free leads one to believe that they must spend most of their time in chains, though. 

"Wildlife" on a mostly unused trash can.

The warthogs were undoubtedly my favorite. The babies were precious and one even came up to say hello! They seemed content to live eating peanuts and rolling in muck. 

The famed 100-or-so pelican exhibit. The entire habitat was about the size of a volleyball court, maybe a little smaller. The birds had no room to fly or even stretch their wings without running into another pelican or five. So most of them were just sitting there preening. 

The Komodo dragons had a surprisingly spacious and grassy exhibit. It was one of my goals to see a Komodo dragon in its natural habitat on Komodo Island sometime during my year, but sadly I never got out that far. Seeing one in its native country was close enough though!

 And last, but not least, this lion statue. I have an entire album full of pictures of weird-looking statues and mannequins I came across in Indonesia. No idea why but so many of them are terrifying or just plain weird-looking.

In all - KBS was dingy, dirty, and full of pitiful animals in pitiful exhibits. I had low expectations to begin with, and they were both met and exceeded. Some animals had really great habitats; the orangutans and komodo dragons come to mind. But some were kept in deplorable conditions; the tigers, elephants, and monkeys in particular.

I can't condemn Indonesia or Indonesians or even the keepers at KBS for any of this. There are lovely zoos in the country (Batu Secret Zoo was the other one I went to, and it was incredible). And obviously no Indonesian wakes up in the morning and says "I think I'm going to shove animals in tiny exhibits and allow them to nearly starve to death in front of an audience today!".

It's corruption that steals any and most all government-allotted funds to the zoo. It's the ignorance of a minority of keepers and those who know better but turn a blind eye anyway. It's the people who keep KBS open for the entertainment of the public even when the international community is condemning it.

Though not the worst zoo in the world (there's one in Egypt that paints donkeys to look like zebras!), KBS was an unforgettable and eye-opening experience. If you're interested in an actual journalistic article about it, you can find one from the Telegraph here.

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I'm Sara, the freckled bule, one out of eight of the coolest people in the world. I spent a year in Indonesia as a KL/YES Abroad student but now I live in Boise, Idaho. Welcome to my bloggity blog.


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