In May 2009 I made my 5th visit to the infamous Pata Zoo in Bangkok, Thailand. Located on the top two floors of the Pata department store this zoo has taken a huge amount of critical comment over the years. Much of this is, I believe, simply due to location. It puts me in mind of Blackpool Tower Zoo which I remember from the sixties in the UK.
It cost me a hefty 200 Baht to get in but this was 'falang' price (Thai's were less than 100 Baht). Mind you I did get a coupon for a free coke inside.
The first floor is the reptile house. There are a total of 140 reptile exhibits of various sizes. Mixed in with the herps are some ten or so devoted to birds, mammals and aquaria along with educational and museum type displays.
I arrived just as one of the shows started. I knew I was not going to like it but felt obliged to watch. The show involved a 3-4 year old Orangutan riding a bike and lifting weights. It was all rather pathetic and not very clever. Then a pretty girl walked round with a Macaw. Next a man with Molorus python accompanied by two people in monkey suits. The commentary was in Thai and I very much doubt it had any educational content. It was very quick and followed up by photo opportunities for a price. Next a stage was set up on the stage and some small plastic stools positioned at either end of the stage. This was for one of the bloody horrible monkey shows that I hate so very much. This involved three unfortunate Pig-tailed Macaques dressed as people and made to sit like them and respond. I felt so sorry for the poor little blighters. A lot of the show involved communication and reaction and I suppose (not really) that may have been a clever spiel. It was when we arrived at the point of seeing one poor creature jumping through a hoop of knives that I thought I would quit the show. As it was it got stuck on the knives twice.
I spent the next few hours touring the zoo.
One of Several Educational Displays
Area for Students to Work
A Partial List of Animals
I am not a lister of animals but I look more at the zoo (any zoo) as a whole but consider it important to include a partial compilation of the animals held in Pata Zoo. On the reptile department side of things there were a lot of cobras and pythons and not much else of interest apart from some nice Monitor Lizards and some wonderful Giant Mudskippers Periophthalmodon schlosseri ( lousy enclosure though) .
Three striped palm civet
Common palm civet
Masked palm civet
Large Indian Civet
Burmese Ferret Badger Melogale personata
Banded Linsang Prionodon linsang
Siberian weasel Mustela sibirica
Java Silvered Langur
White Cheeked Guenon
Crab eating macaques (inc albinos)
Rhesus Macacaques (in albinos)
Stump tailed macaques
Pig tailed macaque (inc albino)
Family of four Orangutan including juvenile of about a year old
Another big male Orangutan on his own
Two Chimpanzees (one nearly white)
Lar Gibbon with young
Oriental Pied Hornbill
There was a great deal more.
I believe it is extremely unlikely that the Badger, the Weasel or the Linsang are new specimens as I remember them from my first visit. This being the case it demonstrates that Pata Zoo knows how to keep animals alive. Sadly though it does not know how to keep them.
Red Billed Ground Cuckoo
Inadequate Flamingo Enclosure
Hoopoe with very little Space
Two Tier Aviaries
There are a lot of educational displays and posters. Okay it is all in Thai so I cannot vouch for content or accuracy but where a scientific name is called for then they use it along with the English name too. Sometimes one or both are incorrect but the effort has been made.
Besides I would make a real hash of it if I were writing the Thai.
I believe that Pata Zoo is the only place I have visited which uses two tier aviaries. This really is making the maximum use of space and is hardly hygienic as waste from the cage above can and does drop into a portion of the cage below.
There is even a single Humboldt Penguin up here in its own air conditioned apartment. Why one? Where are the others? Evidence suggests there was at least half a dozen until recently. The simplest of zoo legislation requiring submission of a five column annual stock sheet would help solve such mysteries.
There were the inevitable photographic sessions with either the python, macaw or orangutan. At the same time they were flogging souvenirs. It was not though so 'in your face' as say, Bali Safari World.
Along the way my camera gave out. How? It was fully charged. Happily I was able to take some shots before this occurred.
The Classic 'Sad' Shot
All through the Pata Zoo the barriers are either non-existent or so minimal that they really serve no purpose at all. This in itself need not necessarily be a bad thing with top notch supervision but here you are lucky to see a member of staff unless you want to buy something or have your photo taken with an animal.
There is a Children's Zoo. This is mainly Sheep, Goats and Guinea Pigs. Here you can buy some greens, bread and biscuits to feed the animals. Harmless stuff in limited quantities but again no control as to how much gets fed to what and where.
It may seem an odd thing to say but Pata Zoo is a relaxing place to visit. After the hustle and buzz of the street below it is quiet here and the air is cleaner plus there are some gardens which give a sense of ambience to what is a very poor zoo.
Lots of Albinos in Pata
One thing which is rarely mentioned and I don't know why it is that I never noticed it before but there is a third 'zoo' floor. This is not open to the public but from odd angles I was able to see and/or hear other hornbills and primates up there.
The boardwalk through walk through aviary is in urgent need of attention. Like the rest of the zoo you can only patch up for so long before something really goes wrong.
I suppose my problem is that I have seen some really appalling zoos and if I include them into any formula of how to gauge the zoo then Pata Zoo is nowhere near the bottom. Some zoos which Joe public would be inclined to marvel at would be much nearer the bottom with me. Okay the location is far from ideal but I can remember Blackpool Tower Zoo, Harrods Zoo and others in Department Store zoos in Grimsby, Leeds and other places. I also remember the Associated Pleasure Parks 'Winter Zoo's' in Kelvin Hall in Glasgow, Newcastle Town Hall and in Leeds. Some of these were worse than Pata Zoo.
Pata Zoo could be quickly put right if there were some sort of Pan Asian zoo legislation. Simple laws such as collections must join with studbooks for species they hold. They must go along with the directions and guidance of species co-ordinators and they must pair up or re-home singletons. All common sense really. I (and many others) would like to see SEAZA getting its act together on such basics.
There was no enrichment anywhere in Pata Zoo. None at all. Again not everyone will agree with me here but I do make the distinction between cage furniture, daily routine and enrichment. So many zoos make the mistake of lumping them altogether under the 'enrichment' heading but they are wrong. It is, as I see it, an excuse to cover over inadequate
The zoo first opened in 1984 and has remained a popular attraction for the Thai people ever since. It does not appear on any 'Tourist tour' as far as I am aware. The zoo nearly closed in 1992 when a tragic fire caused the death of many animals held on the 6th floor. Those on the
7th floor survived.
Over the years a huge variety of different species have been held here. The question must be asked. What happened to the Polar Bear, the Pigmy Hippo, Clouded Leopard, Elephant and others?
The anti-zoo fraternity and the ill informed describe the zoo conditions as barbaric. They are not at all. Some cite cruelty. Okay then define cruelty because you cannot visit Western values and norms on an Eastern culture. I make a distinction between 'malicious cruelty' and 'uninformed (cultural) cruelty'. Whereas I agree the location of the zoo is far from appropriate and the space for practically everything is inadequate, that enrichment is non existent and that cage furnishings are below minimum or non existent. Was there a single exhibit that I liked?.... No, definitely not. Is it a good zoo or a bad zoo? Bad, for sure... and I could go on but barbaric? Cruel? No these are not the words I would use. The monkey show...now I did think that was on the edge of ignorant cruel...and stupid too, and of course I know nothing of the training methods used. I despise the use of animals in circus type entertainment. If there is not a positive educational effort being put forward then the exercise should be abandoned. But then was what I saw in Pata any better or worse than I saw in Bali Safari and Marine Park?
Burmese Ferret Badger
Skipping through the internet entries I note that Pata does not appear on the current SEAZA membership list. Other sites say it is a member. So my questions are. Is it a member of SEAZA now and if so, why? If not, was it a member before and if so, why? And if it was and is not
now what was the reason for the reason for membership being terminated? Perhaps it was simply non payment of dues. One wonders because the Pata Zoo has not become worse or better in the years I have been visiting. Everything has remained very much the same.
Pata Zoo does not pretend to be anything other than it is, a zoo on top of a Bangkok department store. On the other hand there is an attempt at education. The cages are clean and the animals appear physically healthy. The bears looked screwed up mentally though. What pisses me off is that many of the bigger, plusher, brighter, purely commercial S.E. Asian Zoos are doing less than Pata. You only need to scratch that very thin veneer.
Pata Zoo Ape Accommodation
Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on September 10, 2009:
Antoni P. Uni - Unfortunately your first comment included a photo which was not able to be reproduced in the comment section. I cannot edit it either but I let it through as it stands because it included your link to the Facebook photos.
Antoni P. Uni on August 30, 2009:
SEAZA confirmed me that Pata "zoo" isn't part on this orgaisation.
The mentioned URL only covers the topic Pata "zoo".
Just came depressed back from a third visit, but I could have known that nothing but nothing has been changed.
Part of the text I made out of my heart:
"A visit to Pata “zoo” one year later: as there’s a stalemate and the owner has all play-trumps in hand as the Thai laws seems to be insufficient to close down the whole disconsolate collection of animals they are still suffering in their poor and disgraceful “accommodations”.
Any renewing/renovation and/or maintenance cannot be established which is giving the premises more and more a poor looking and depressing appearance.
Some terrariums and cages are empty and several snakes are exposed as plastic.
The penguin is still showing himself alone since all his colleagues died a bit more than one year ago. A pity!"
Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on August 22, 2009:
I fully agree with you..."well run zoos" are all inter connected through staff, through official breeding programmes and more. There is though a degree of 'haziness'. Pata Zoo is not a member of anything as far as I am aware but does take stab at education. There are a number of big 'name up in lights' zoos earning mega bucks in Asia that do less. Don't interpret that as a defence of Pata but rather an attack of the others. SEAZA is a toothless tiger.
CMHypno from Other Side of the Sun on August 22, 2009:
I am also old enough to remember the zoo in the Blackpool Tower and was really happy when they closed it and built the new zoo in Stanley Park. Zoos are a very emotive issue, but I believe that well run zoos that keep up with the latest research on caring for wild animals are very important for conservation and educating and engaging the public on important wildlife issues.
Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on August 20, 2009:
You are right of course, Pata Zoo is an awful zoo and it is cruel. The difference is that I am seeing the zoo through my eyes and not yours. I have spent my life in zoos and visited hundreds and simply due to this my reportage will be different to the next man.
If I were to visit this zoo wearing a 'zoo inspector' hat there would not be a cage or enclosure which I would pass.
I have seen far worse zoos, really awful ones, and no those in Bali were better, enclosure wise than Pata though Bali was just as...no more exploitative than Pata. All zoos have to be seen for their own merits as well as faults.
The cruelty issue does, I believe, have to be excused on cultural grounds. I like Thai people, and Vietnamese, and Filipino but I have lived long enough amongst them to know that those I have lived amongst understanding of what is acceptable with animals is far different to mine. Just look at this horribly abusive Tiger Temple run by Buddhist Monks. Almost a number one tourist destination in Thailand....but very cruel in my Western eyes. Buddhist principles...I think not. Once again cruelty by ignorance, cultural cruelty...and commercial greed.
The Taliban is a valid point. I would have to excuse, though not accept, their cruelty by ignorance. Education is what is needed be it for zoos, animals, religion, people and politics.
We will have to discuss this all over a beer one day.
Bruce Anderson on August 20, 2009:
Although you are critical, the overall tone is one of acceptance and justification of a truly vile establishment. Why? Because you have been somewhere worse in Bali? That excuses nothing.
You state: "Some cite cruelty. Okay then define cruelty because you cannot visit Western values and norms on an Eastern culture. I make a distinction between 'malicious cruelty' and 'uninformed (cultural) cruelty'."
Well surely a zoo must have educated, informed people running it, maybe a vet or two, some trained staff. So there goes any defense of ignorance or uninformed cruelty.
Where does cruelty for profit fit in, do you defend that as cultural? That is not the Thai culture, Thailand's culture is strongly influenced by Buddhism which teaches respect for all life. Those Thais who go against this for personal profit or because of a lazy "never mind" (mai pen rai) attitude are not showcasing Eastern culture. They are acting immorally.
I have many Thai friends who deeply respect animals and are sickened by Pata zoo. They would be equally sickened by you defending it as part of Thai or Eastern culture. What nonsense.
Following your logic, we have no right to criticize the Taliban's treatment of women because it's a different culture with different values, we in the west just don't understand.
Cruelty has the same meaning in the west and the east. If a culture is prepared to tolerate cruelty more, to turn a blind eye, or to simply not care, should we respect this without criticism because of political correctness for their culture. No. Cruel is cruel. Polar bears on 7th floors of department stores in 40 degree heat (without air conditioning) is cruel, barbaric, ignorant and plain stupid (whether this is done in London, Bangkok or Bali.) I know the polar bear is no longer there, but it is symbolic of the zoos attitude to its animals, and do you think it's gone because it was moved to a more suitable environment or because it died a slow, torturous death in polar bear hell.
Sorry to pick on this one point when you did offer some criticism of the place, but culture cannot be given as an excuse for cruelty.
Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on June 15, 2009:
Gif - Animals in captivity is a big subject and becomes especially emotional when cages are compared to prisons. In a good zoo this comparison should not arise.
The 'wild' has bars, fences, wires, moats and walls that we cannot see. These are the territories which restrict a wild animals freedom. Territories are defined by scent, geology, temperature, terrain, food supply and much more. Animals in the wild are as much...in fact more 'caged' in many cases than they are in captivity. It is not about space but quality and care in captivity...I could ramble on but as I said it is a big subject. Read some more of my hubs on zoos and you will understand more.
I am very Pro Zoo...Pro GOOD Zoo.
Gif on June 14, 2009:
True what Peter wrote may sound reasonable in many aspects,
but if u think about it, animals that are being caged in zoos sounds like their worst destiny, even if the zoo is clean and they're being feed properly. just imagine yourself being imprison in a beautiful jail getting to eat decent meals everyday, don't you think you'd be desperate to live in the place you feel you actually belong?
shamelabboush on May 13, 2009:
Very sad conditions as it's not enough caging all those poor animals!!!
Ralf Sommerlad on May 13, 2009:
I do certainly agree with Peters comments!
By the way, Thailands famous herpetologist Wirot Nutaphand worked in Pata Zoo for many years. He was also not able to improve the reptile husbadry at Pata Zoo that much, but there are some interesting species kept in the zoo. With well-trained keepers and a curator with skills and enthusiasm much better husbandry would be possible.