Femke den Haas is the founder and coordinator for wildlife rescue at the Jakarta Animal Aid Network (JAAN). Den Haas lives in Indonesia and first visited the Ragunan Zoo 20 years ago: "I was so shocked to see the suffering of the animals there that I decided I wanted to return to Indonesia the soonest to help improve animal welfare in the country."
It was the eyes, she says, of one adult male orangutan that she couldn't forget: "His name was Johnny. Johnny was an adult orangutan inside a tiny dark cage, not able to climb, not even able to obtain any sunlight."
Twenty years later, she told The Dodo, Johnny is still inside the same cage.
Since 2002, 23 orangutans have died inside the Ragunan Zoo, den Haas says. (The Ragunan Zoo is a member of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums.)
"We have tried hard to work with [the zoo], to improve the welfare of the animals," she says. "We have been in endless discussions about the need to improve the welfare for the animals and always are told that things will improve soon."
Since 2013, however, JAAN has been denied access to help improve the quality of care for the animals of the zoo, den Haas claims.
Part of the problem, she maintains, is there is no standard of care for animal welfare in zoos in Indonesia. "The Indonesia Zoo and Aquarium Association (IZAA) is a sham. This association is run by the zoo owners who seek profit and little regulations. The conditions of animals throughout Indonesia in zoos are horrific. I just returned from a zoo in Banyuwangi that received animals from Surabaya [Zoo], including orangutans and elephants. The elephants are chained and walked around [by keepers] with the infamous sticks with nails on them to handle the elephants and [use them for] elephant rides."
Unfortunately, says den Haas, as bad as the Ragunan and Surabaya zoos are, there are some even worse. At these zoos, says den Haas, "animals hardly are seen with even drinking water."
The staff member of the advocacy group that provided the photos to The Dodo agrees with den Haas' assessment: "Sadly, animals are kept in even worse conditions in other zoos both within Indonesia and other Asian countries."
"The sad reality," the staffer adds, "is that the majority of Asian zoos house as many species and individuals as they possibly can, and the staff have little to no knowledge of how to care for these individuals to meet their complex physical and behavioral needs. Therefore animals languish in squalid concrete cells and the measure of 'good' or 'bad' is whether they survive or not."
The Ragunan Zoo, the Surabaya Zoo, WAZA and the IZAA did not immediately return The Dodo's request for comment.
To help JAAN improve the welfare of animals in zoos, go here.