Surabaya. An official previously in charge of the management of Surabaya Zoo has acknowledged that non-conservation institutions were among those that received animals as part of a program to ease overcrowding at the facility, but denied that the process violated wildlife trade rules.
Tony Sumampau, the director of Taman Safari Indonesia and formerly the head of a caretaker team overseeing Surabaya Zoo, said on Tuesday that the institutions included a naval base in Surabaya, the tourism office in the town of Malang, and the East Java Police headquarters.
Tony said the transfer of the animals, mostly deer, was legal because it was approved by the Forestry Ministry, despite the recipient institutions not having any wildlife conservation function.
“As long as the [non-conservation institutions] have the proper license to own the animals, then it’s not a problem,” he said.
During Tony’s stint overseeing the zoo from August 2010 until July 2013, 397 animals were transferred to conservation institutions such as Pematang Siantar Zoo in North Sumatra; the Taman Safari Indonesia II park in Prigen, East Java; Lembah Hijau Animal Park in Bandarlampung; and a zoo in Banyuwangi, East Java.
“All of those transfers were conducted to minimize the population at Surabaya Zoo,” Tony said.
“This policy was based on evaluations and recommendations from an independent team formed by the ministry.”
He denied allegations that the transfers were a way for officials involved in the zoo’s management to trade the animals for money, cars or other items, and insisted the transfers were conducted solely for the purpose of keeping the zoo’s animal population to a manageable size.
Prior to Tony’s team taking over the management of the zoo, up to 500 animals were dying each year from 2006 because of overcrowding, lack of proper nutrition, disease and other problems.
On Sunday, police in Surabaya said they had found sufficient evidence to indicate that some of the animal transfers under Tony’s watch violated the 1990 Natural Resources Conservation Law, which prohibits the trade of certain species.
The law also stipulates that wildlife can only be traded with wildlife and not with other items.
“There is a Toyota Innova that was given by the Lembah Hijau Animal Park,” Tony confirmed.
“They wanted to help Surabaya Zoo because the zoo didn’t have an operational vehicle. They just wanted to help, what’s so wrong with that?”
He added the car was still in the possession of the zoo, although it was registered in the name of a zoo official instead of the institution itself.
He said this was because the zoo management was at the time in such bad shape that it did not even have clear legal standing as an institution of any kind.
“We signed an agreement, which was notarized, that once Surabaya Zoo had attained some kind of legal standing, then the car’s ownership would be handed over to this new legally recognized institution,” Tony said.