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Sumatran tiger’s plight sparks outcry over animal welfare at Medan Zoo

A viral video of a weakened Sumatran tiger at Medan Zoo prompts urgent calls for better management and government intervention after three tiger deaths, emphasizing the need for improved captive animal welfare.

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The tigers at Medan Zoo are in a very distressing condition, suffering from chronic illness and lack of food. (Photo: mongabay.co.id)

INDONESIA – A distressing video depicting the weakened state of a Sumatran tiger at Medan Zoo, North Sumatera, has gone viral on social media, raising concerns about the welfare of animals in captivity.

The footage, shared on Friday (12 Jan) by @medantau.id, revealed the emaciated condition of the tiger named Sorik, lying lethargic in its enclosure.

The controversy surrounding Medan Zoo has escalated in recent months, with the death of a Bengal tiger and two Sumatran tigers, including the most recent casualty, Nurhaliza, on Sunday (31 Dec). The dire situation prompted the Regional Company (PD) for Development in Medan Zoo to address the public.

Bambang Hendarto, Acting Director General of PD Development Medan, stated that Sorik had been suffering from a chronic illness as “dubius infausta” – a term used to refer to predictions about the progression of a disease, where recovery is doubtful or confirmed to be incurable – for an extended period.

He refrained from specifying the disease or its causes, describing dubius infausta as highly dangerous and challenging to treat.

The current neglected state of Medan Zoo. (Photo: detik.com)

“While there is an attempt at intensive care, the chances of recovery are slim,” Bambang admitted, acknowledging the difficulties faced in treating Sorik and the recently deceased Nurhaliza. The regional Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) had reportedly predicted these outcomes.

Medan Zoo drew attention after losing three tigers in just two months, prompting the Indonesian Zoo Association (PKBSI) to express deep concerns about the zoo’s management. Tony Sumampau, Secretary-General of PKBSI, disclosed that their team had visited Medan Zoo multiple times, concluding that the facility’s management was alarming.

In November 2023, PKBSI inspectors found several animals, especially four Sumatran tigers and Bengal tigers, in a malnourished state. Responding to these findings, PKBSI committed to deploying 4-6 animal caretakers to assist with daily feeding and overall care, starting from December 2023.

The second visit in January 2024 revealed some improvements in cleanliness and food provision. However, concerns remained, particularly regarding the high humidity in sleeping enclosures, affecting the carnivores’ health. PKBSI currently allocates Rp 3,500,000 (approximately SGD 302) daily for animal feed, transportation, and other needs.

Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy Sandiaga Salahuddin Uno expressed his views on the financial constraints facing Medan Zoo. Sandiaga urged the zoo management to prioritize animal welfare and employee rights, emphasizing that proper zoo management is crucial for attracting tourists.

The central government, Sandiaga revealed, is ready to facilitate and support zoo management, capitalizing on potential investors interested in green tourism. He emphasized that good zoo management is essential for sustaining high tourist interest, especially during holiday seasons.

However, critics like Anita Panggabean, founder of Toba Animal Friends Sumatra, blamed Medan Zoo’s management for the tiger deaths. Anita criticized the lack of competence and care for the animals, suggesting that if the city cannot manage the zoo, it should consider alternatives.

“Releasing the animals to their natural habitat or seeking support from animal-loving communities would be a better solution than waiting for uncertain investors,” Anita argued. She called for swift action to avoid further deterioration of the animal’s health.

Netizens echoed these sentiments on social media, with comments urging responsible action from the zoo management. Concerns were raised about the ethical implications of selling animal feed within the zoo premises and the lack of care for protected species.

“If they can’t manage it, wouldn’t it be better to return them to their natural habitat? They can find food on their own… Don’t be cruel to animals,” wrote @vinalu***.

“If indeed the city government or the managers of Medan Zoo cannot manage it better, it would be best to hand it over to a more suitable place, such as another zoo,” commented @riofabrio***.

“How can they be healthy if they’re not fed? If there’s no funding, donate them to a more suitable zoo,” added @fajarsidi***.

There are nine species of tigers (Panthera tigris) in the world; experts state that six of them are still alive, while three have become extinct.

One of the subspecies that still exists today is the Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae), native to Indonesia.

In the homeland, there were actually two other tiger species that could still be found in two different regions, namely the Javan tiger (Panthera tigris sondaica) and the Bali tiger (Panthera tigris balica). Unfortunately, both subspecies have already been classified as extinct. Only the Sumatran tiger has managed to survive, albeit with a very limited population.

According to WWF Indonesia data in 2020, there are only about 400 Sumatran tigers living in their natural habitat. This number continues to decline due to the increasing activities of hunting in the wild.

Based on research by the Department of Forestry of the Republic of Indonesia (2007), several factors contribute to the increasing rarity of the Sumatran tiger population in its habitat, including:

  1. Deforestation and Degradation
  2. Hunting and Trading
  3. Conflict between Tigers and Humans due to the conversion of forests
  4. Poverty among communities, as some traditional communities utilize tiger meat for food, while others hunt the animals for sale to earn money.
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indong so poor that they eating cats like commies too?

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