Call of the wild

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 July, 2011, 12:00am


I used to go often to the Zoological and Botanical Gardens. As a child, on dad's shoulders, I would babble at the black jaguar as he paced around his tiny cage. As I grew up I became so disturbed by the sight of the majestic feline gnashing his way through the days, along a worn-out strip of concrete, that I stopped going to the zoo.

The jaguar is dead now, having never beheld anything that wasn't chequered by the peeling grey mesh of his cage. In his place - as the shameful example of why our Leisure and Cultural Services Department should never have been entrusted with the welfare of wild animals - is Vandu, a 16-year-old male orang-utan, which arrived from a zoo in Hungary in January last year.

Recently, I stood at his enclosure and watched the ape gaze with intelligent sadness at his false surrounds. Cameras flashed and he sighed.

Vandu is now the father of twins, a boy and a girl born in captivity on July 8. Raba, their mother, was reared locally. The department is yet to decide whether to rehabilitate the babies once they're old enough, or keep them on as attractions.

No government body should be allowed to test the commercial value of an untamed creature before granting or withholding its freedom. And it is intolerable that modern zoos, whose existence could hardly be justified if not for the captive breeding of endangered species, can choose to act against the animals' interests.

They must set the young orang-utans free.