After the promise by Mauricio Macri to redevelop the Buenos Aires city zoo into an ecological park “to preserve, research and promote the care of nature and life,” the area has once again found itself at the center of controversy.
The death of 18 year-old giraffe Shaki – just days after Ruth’s death – came as a great shock to the staff at the park. According to La Nación, employees said that she appeared to be in perfect health. However, the morning prior to her death the staff noticed signs of colic. While she initially responded well to treatment, she later relapsed and never recovered. The exact cause of death won’t be determined until an autopsy is completed.
The former zoo, located just meters from Plaza Italia in Palermo, closed back in 2016 due in large part to the dismal conditions the animals were subjected to. Unfortunately, several of the specimens met untimely or tragic ends, resulting in blowback from animal rights activists and regular citizens alike. There are currently 865 animals at the park; 432 have been transferred since 2016.
Despite the transformation into an “ecological park” (with supposedly better conditions), animal fatalities are still prevalent. Just 11 days ago Ruth, a female white Rhino – a species on the cusp of extinction – died after a flood in her enclosure led to an untreatable infection.
Critics have argued that the cause of the giraffe’s death stems from the incompetence of caregivers at the park, especially given the complexity of the animals’ biology that requires an advanced level of knowledge and expertise. Sources linked to the park commented that the institution laid off employees that were opposed to plans to transfer certain animals, which they allege is related to a long-term project aiming to clear the land in preparation for a real estate venture.
Former zoo director Claudio Bertonatti filed a complaint that called for the importance of determining Shaki’s exact cause of death. The statement also mentioned recent photos and videos taken around the enclosures that show cockroaches and rats, known carriers of infection and disease. Another photo making the rounds on social media showed a giraffe leaning over a fence and eating out of a dumpster on-site, which animal rights activists claim is a sign of malnutrition and inadequate diet.
However, the Ministry of Environment and Public Space for the city of Buenos Aires has retaliated, assuring that the documented evidence is not from yesterday, adding that the area in question is currently under construction.
Yet more still argue that Shaki is just another victim of privatization and poor administration. Back in September 2015, Bertonatti told The Bubble that “the administration of a public zoo by a private enterprise has proven to be a remarkable failure.” More worryingly, plans to privatize separate enclosures in the coming years have sparked many wanting an independent investigation to be carried out. The project is split into three stages and at each stage different enclosures will be privatized for a set amount of years.
City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta and Modernization Minister Andy Freire unveiled the plan showing a revamped layout and expansion for the park’s green spaces to 13.5 hectares, up from 10.9 hectares. These plans were approved by Legislature of Buenos Aires last month.
Freire has said that instead of cages, there will be “controlled zones” separated by rocks or moats – hoping for the center to become a beacon of biodiversity.
For Bertonatti, privatization is a big mistake: “I hope that this complaint will allow the authentic transformation of the old Buenos Aires Zoo into a serious institution that is at the service of animal welfare, environmental education, the generation of scientific knowledge, and the conservation of species as wild ecosystems. Hope, despite all the predictions.”