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News :: Environment
15 May 2005
I am a concerned citizen asking for guidance on how to help the animals who reside at the Belgrade city zoo. Built in 1936, on six hectares of rocky fortress, this privately operated zoo is among the oldest in Europe. It is located in the Belgrade city center, on city property. It has approximately 2.000 animals of about 200 species. Many big animals are in very small cages. Many animals look distressed. They often show signs of "stereotypic behavior," such as pacing, head-bobbing, neck-twisting, bar-biting and sucking, coprophagia, over-grooming, and self-mutilation. Many animals have been born who are not in the zoo, including tigers, bears, and a hippo. What has become of them?
The Orang-utan Trade
Only about 20,000 orang-utans still live freely on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. Orang-utans are highly prized by zoos, circuses, animal trainers in the entertainment business and wealthy private collectors.
Because of their rarity, orang-utan babies fetch a high price - as high as $50,000 in the United States. Trappers usually kill the mothers - and sometimes other adults and babies - to obtain one young orang-utan. Taking into account the high mortality rate suffered by captured animals, animal rights advocates estimate that certainly two or three, and perhaps as many as ten, animals die for each one who survives the long journey to a zoo or other destination.
The case of one group of captured orang-utans, known as the 'Bangkok Six', has focused public attention on the international primate trade. The six orang-utans were transported without food or water from Borneo to Singapore to Bangkok, Thailand, stuffed into two wooden crates marked 'birds'. The crates, their lids nailed shut, had only pencil-diameter holes for ventilation. One box, carrying three orang-utans, was shipped upside-down. Had officials at Bangkok airport not become curious enough about the un-bird-like cries coming from the crates to X-ray them, the animals would have gone to Belgrade, Yugoslavia, and from there possibly to a Moscow zoo.
The shipment, marked 'personal baggage', also included two sia-mangs, who were presumably to go to Belgrade Zoo as payment for overseeing the orang-utans' passage to Moscow. Although Thailand is a member of CITES, in 1990 it allowed the import and export of non-native species.  In fact, officials at Bangkok airport seized the orangutans and siamangs not because of their endangered status, but because they were labelled incorrectly.
MIAMI, Florida--Victor Bernal, 57, director of zoos and parks for Mexico state, Mexico, was convicted on May 18 of trying to bootleg a gorilla from Florida who was actually a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent in disguise. Bernal paid $97,500 for the "gorilla," in one of two stings set up by convicted primate trafficker Matthew Block of Worldwide Primates as part of an attempted plea bargain. The other sting nabbed alleged bird's egg smuggler Clement Solano.
Bernal is to be sentenced on July 18. In the most recent similar case, a Texas exotic bird dealer who was convicted of smuggling parrots was on April 28 fined $10,000 and sentenced to five years in prison.
Block is currently appealing a 13-month sentence issued for his part in the 1990 "Bangkok Six" orangutan-smuggling case, and was recently fined $16,000 for multiple Animal Welfare Act violations, also dating to 1990. A major laboratory primate supplier, whose customers include most of the laboratories whose work on primates has become controversial, Block may escape jail time entirely, according to International Primate Protection League president Shirley McGreal, who exposed the Bangkok Six case, because key documents have disappeared.
McGreal has asked the American Civil Liberties Union to investigate the entrapment aspects of both of the Block-arranged stings, pointing out that neither Bernal nor the other arrestees had previous criminal records. Further, she said, "No animals were shipped, and no animals suffered or died, as happened in the Bangkok Six case." The defendants were never offered the chance to plea-bargain, as Block was; they spent 10 days in jail while trying to arrange bond, while Block has never been jailed; and one defendant, Maria Villada, lost a baby she had tried to conceive for seven years when she miscarried at her arraignment.
Ironically, former Belgrade Zoo volunteer Milka Knezevic-Ivaskovic, who helped expose the Bangkok Six case by revealing how her boss, Vukosav Bojovic, helped set it up, may become the only person to serve time in connection with it. A Serbian court on January 26 upheld her three-month jail sentence and fine for purportedly libeling Bojovic---who is under indictment in the U.S. as result of the same evidence. Knezevic-Ivaskovic has appealed again.
Please help us by voicing your concerns. Write a letter to the following:
Vojislav Kostunica, Office of Prime Minister
predsednikvladesrbije (at) srbija.sr.gov.yu
President of Serbia , Predsednik Svetozar Marovic
kabinet (at) predsednikscg.yu
Ministry of Interior
muprs (at) mup.sr.gov.yu
Ministry of Justice
kabinet (at) mpravde.sr.gov.yu
Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management
office (at) minpolj.sr.gov.yu
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