Animal Rights group Speak Up For Animals (SUFA) held a silent vigil outside of Wellington Zoo on Monday 25 February 2019, to mourn the deaths of the four male baboons killed there on Friday. The baboons were euthanised by the zoo as they felt it was the ‘humane’ option, after the animals became increasingly aggressive towards each other. Yesterday’s protest was intended to raise awareness of the plight of the baboons and other animals who continue to suffer in captivity.
Activists held black placards shaped like tombstones with the letters “RIP” and the baboons’ names, “Rafiki”, “Les”, “Habib”, and “Osiris”. The vigil was also attended by staff and volunteers from animal rights group SAFE, whose signs read, “Captivity kills”. SUFA representative Sonja Bermudez said, “While we recognise the excellent work the Wellington Zoo does with the rehabilitation of birds, we believe that keeping animals in captivity for entertainment purposes is cruel and outdated”. “It is clear that these baboons have been affected by the mental and physical stress of being in small social groups, out of their natural environment and confined in a limited space”. “We encourage the zoo to think twice about purchasing, breeding or providing homes for exotic animals, and instead consider supporting sanctuaries where they can enjoy their habitat of origin and open spaces”.
Shortly after the vigil began, Wellington Zoo staff approached SUFA to discuss their concerns. Ms. Bermudez noted, “We expressed acknowledgement at the sadness [the staff] may be feeling… but also that we felt that the situation hadn’t been dealt with appropriately”. The activists questioned the staff why they did not make contact with HUHA NZ (Helping You Help Animals Trust) who have been rescuing, rehabilitating and caring for Old World Monkeys (Baboons fall into this family) from dysfunctional situations extremely successfully for 15 years. Zoo staff believed that moving the animals would not have solved the problem. However, HUHA NZ co-founder Carolyn McKenzie was surprised she was not approached or aware of the situation and disagreed: “Taking on primates that fall in the ‘too hard basket’ is what we do”.
SUFA is now calling on the public to boycott zoos, aquariums and petting zoos, and instead support the work of animal sanctuaries, both in New Zealand and abroad. Activist Lauren Wickens-Smith added, “It’s great that people want to teach their children about wild animals and conservation, but there are many great video resources available to facilitate this learning”. “Zoos are (primarily) tourist attractions, and actually reinforce the idea that animals exist for our pleasure and entertainment. We know that zoos do some good work too, but they also normalise and perpetuate a culture of animal exploitation and objectification”. “If we truly care about conservation, we need to be addressing these problems at their roots. We need to be questioning our society’s dominance of animals, and this assumption that the commodification of their bodies is acceptable.”