Ragunan Zoo (Taman margasatwa Ragunan) and Jakarta Zoo are one and the same. It is rather like London Zoo and Regents Park being known by two different names.
The Zoo was first established in 1864 but moved to its present 135 hectare location some 20Km from the centre of Jakarta to the southern suburbs in 1966.
The zoo is open every day of the week from 07.00 - 17.00. It is popular place and is exceptionally busy at weekends.
The Ragunan Zoo is an exciting zoo to visit from a 'zoo person' point of view. It is big and sprawling, holds a lot of Indonesian species and you really don't know what you will find around the next corner.
This is one of a series of zoo reports that was actually included within my travel journal ‘The Itinerant ZooKeeper’. Initially I started to extract the zoo data but found the reading was diminished by it. So look on it as a zoo/travelogue. The only major edits I have done is a little censoring and to remove the Casanova exploits.
Thursday 15th June 2006
It has been a very odd day. My directions said to catch bus number 19 from Jalan Thamin to get to Ragunan zoo. I did and was passed on mid road to bus number 604 which in turn passed me to number 602. I reckon the journey took about three quarters of an hour. I don't think I did too badly considering I never met an English speaker along the way. The biggest puzzle was to see another number 19 bus at the zoo. So why I couldn't have stayed on the first bus I have no idea.
Along the way I saw much evidence of high security, particularly outside banks, hotels and government buildings. There was even razor wire in use in places on the street. Even at shopping centres cars are being checked with mirrors underneath.
What the papers say:
'The Jakarta Post' - 15/06/06
'Mt Merapi erupts again'
'10 die after eating turtle'
The zoo is right next to the bus station. Big impressive entrance with more than one ticket booth. Inside there are numerous paths and roads. Most are in good repair. There is a mix of well maintained gardens and rough forest. The cages and enclosures are well spaced within a huge area. There is so much more that could be built without straining land resources. Most of the cages have green, hand painted signs. Most of these are correct, or nearly so. Certain glaring mistakes like a Black Jaguar coming from Africa spring to mind though. On the whole a complete overhaul of the signage is needed. Ideal opportunity to add maps, colour and a bit more information.
There are a lot of old cages which have seen better days but are still in use. I daresay they may have held different species in the past. Those for the leopards are faced with heavy 'prison' bars. Inside there is a moat cum swimming pool and a sloping rock back. I thought these were quite good. A bit of tarting up and glass to replace the bars and they could be very nice indeed.
The reptile house was quite good and the aquarium too. A bit more planting up on the aquarium backs would really make them better. An assessment of the available reptile house space is called for. The soft shell turtle is in a hopelessly inadequate enclosure. The Reticulated Python here is the biggest I have seen anywhere. It could swallow me whole. I recollect the 28 footer which Nick Nyoka of Knaresborough Zoo had. He fed that on pigs. This Jakarta one could have probably eaten two pigs at a time. The signage in this area was much better though there was some incorrect spelling and information.
The old primate cages were very old fashioned. They were definitely built to last and don't look to be going to fall down soon. Lots of single monkeys amongst which there was Proboscis, Silver leaf, De Brazza, Macaca tonkeana, Macaca heckii, Macaca brunesceri and more.
I had only spent a couple of hours in the zoo before I called on Ulrike Freifrau von Mengden. This remarkable elderly Prussian lady has been living in a small cottage in the centre of the zoo for more than fifty years. During this time she has been caring for Orangutans and a multitude of other creatures. Her companions today are two dogs, numerous cats, a free
ranging Black Hornbill and a parrot so bald to be species unrecognisable. Oh and yes, seventeen or so Orangutans. These are lovingly maintained in the most horrific accommodation. Some are incapable of standing to full height or stretching out. All are in beautiful, even outstanding condition. Their bleak accommodation is spotlessly clean and their diet is good but this is no life. Some have been housed like this for seven years! And there is no end in site for this purgatory.
Ulla is naturally very frustrated and angry....and very stressed at the situation she finds her animals in. She needs help, she wants help and worries constantly as to what will happen when she is no longer there.
I met Ulla through an introduction from my friend Paul V but in conversation it turned out we had another acquaintance in common, Hans Bulart. She remembered him very well in spite of not having seen him for twenty five years or so (about as long as me). She is very keen to be put in touch with Hans once again. I heard he had disappeared into Trinidad somewhere but
as he is not inclined to keep a low profile someone must know where he is. Please let me know.
On the Bulart front there was another interesting twist. Otto Bulart (Hans's father) always used to converse with me in a mix of three languages, switching from English to German to Arabic, sometimes all in the same sentence. Without my ever being able to speak German I did over a few years build up a very good understanding of it. In the twenty odd years since, that understanding had faded into oblivion. Today Ulla was doing the same only this time it was English, German and Bahasa Indonesia. Funny thing was the German was coming flooding back.
Ulla is trying her best for her animals. She supports them with her own cash, she even has her own small team of keepers without whom she could never manage. Ulla's zoo is a zoo within a zoo. Joe public do not get to see the miserable conditions in which her animals live. No, the public see the Orang-utans in the 'Schmutzer Primate Center' Pusat Primata Schmutzer (the other zoo within the zoo - more on this later) which must have amongst the very best Orangutan enclosures in the world. I have seen none better anywhere. Ulla believes her animals should be here or in broadly similar accommodation She also believes that when her close friend Mrs Schmutzer donated the millions for the Primate Center that a percentage was intended specifically for this purpose. It doesn't look like it is going to happen anytime soon if ever. I don't pretend to understand the politics involved here or the potential or actual clash of personalities. What I do know and do understand as a zoo man of thirty eight years standing is that these animals should not, must not remain in these totally inadequate conditions. Ulla needs money, she needs help through a charity. I know members of numerous animal charities and other organisations including , BOS, IPPL, Born Free Foundation, WSPSA, WildAid read my ZooNews Digest. They are aware. So dig in, don't believe me, investigate for yourselves, contact Ulla*, do something. Don't leave these unfortunate creatures in this appalling accommodation. Any zoos listening? What about the multitude of other animal charities? If anybody has any ideas about returning these animals to the wild, forget it. The wild is disappearing at a rate of knots and there must be over a thousand Orangutans dotted around Indonesia in rescue facilities, the famous 'sanctuaries'. Some of these I am told are housing 'their' animals in conditions similar to those of the animals kept by Ulla. They certainly don't need more animals dumping on them. Its rather like this stupid protest in Thailand against elephants being shipped to Australia. I mean what is better, the cushy caring zoo or a Thai forestry camp, the wild is out of the question. I know which I would go for.
NOTE: Although my original mention of this situation was put out in 2006 I have made several mentions since. Others have talked about doing something or investigating (This includes Taman Safari in its role of chair of SEAZA) and yet here we are in 2009 and still nothing has been done.
Apart from a couple of brief tours of various bits of the zoo with Ulla in her golfcart I spent the afternoon with her at her cottage. We were joined later by her friend Barbara and had a late lunch come tea together.
It was starting to get dark when I took my leave of Ulla and Barbara. I had timed my exit perfectly because I really had no idea where I was in connection to the gate. Any later and I would have been lost in the zoo overnight.
I waited half an hour but there was no sign of a bus back into the city and so I negotiated with a taxi. My taxi driver was friendly and talkative and of course, a pimp on the side. Actually I learnt a lot about the seedier side of Jakarta on my return journey. I also learned that his family are living just 9 Km from the erupting volcano, Mt Merapi.
Outside the bar tonight three girls in traditional costumes were dancing to drums and busking.
It made for an interesting and very friendly night. Indonesian girls have a different slant on things.
Friday 16th June 2006
I arranged with my 'pimp' yesterday to take me to the zoo first thing this morning. I didn't mind faffing with the buses but I really needed maximum time to get round the zoo.
We chatted about other things on the journey and mostly about accidents. He said that six of his friends had died coming off motorcycles. More poignant was "if you have no money when you go to hospital here, you die."
I got to the zoo just before nine and started initially to move through it logically but soon realised a zig zag approach was going to cover more ground quicker. There really is so much to see. Can you imagine 29 Cassowaries of 3 species, or was it four or even five? It is at such times I wish I had a decent camera and that the birds would actually stand still.
What about a herd of 21 Barbirusa? Fantastic to watch. I do hope that there is some breeding management going on. Wasted otherwise. There were big herds of deer too. Axis kuhli, Cervus timorensis moluccensis, Sumatran Sambar and at least another four species. Held separately, some in paddocks which you could fit some British zoos into.
Lots of bear pits. All horrible though it was obvious that a lot of effort had been put into keeping them occupied.
The area covered by the zoo is immense and yet there is still plenty of space available, lots of it. If some serious collection planning was implemented then there could be more. This place could really make a serious and important contribution to breeding programmes. Right now it isn't, it is all willy nilly.
They really don't need, the world does not need, more unmanaged tigers of uncertain parents (or any white tigers at all). The same goes for the deer and much else. Serious management could halve or even quarter food bills and other costs and make everything so much better. Why am I going on about this. Well to me it looks like this wonderful collection is just starting
down that steep decline and if I am wrong then sorry but it won't be long.
There a appear to be whole families living within the zoo. Lots of 'private' food and drink vendors. There were people fishing in the moats. Not with lines but with cast nets. There is a most unusable purpose built football pitch with permanent goals. It has a large tree growing in the middle of it.
There was a separate charge to gain entry to the Schmutzer Primate Center, the other zoo within the zoo. In terms of difference it was like venturing onto another planet. This was big, beautiful, impressive, wonderful, super and yet it was unfinished and has been unfinished for a while. At the same time the finished bits are starting to deteriorate. Plastic and polystyrene rubbish lying, dangerously, about and yet there were more staff, security and otherwise at the gate area of this complex than some western zoos have as their entire staff. Much as I was impressed by this place I feel that millions, many millions were wasted on the entrance and a restaurant that doesn't look like it ever gets used (it was closed anyhow).
The signage was brilliant, the thought, the planning, the presentation, the construction of the enclosures, top marks. There was evidence of enrichment devices, though not recently used and a bit of the gloss was going. Peeping through the doors to the inside enclosures was interesting. Looked a bit lab like to me. Outsides were good though. These small enclosures held species like the Javan ebony langur (Trachyphitecus auratus), Kloss's gibbon (Hylobates klossii), Mitred leaf monkey (Presbytis melalophos).
The best enclosure though, perhaps the best enclosure in the world was that for the Gorillas. It was stunning, magnificent! Is there a better one anywhere? I doubt it. I was in awe. The gorillas looked great. Really happy. This is as all enclosures should be. Not very far behind in terms of wonderfulness were the Orangutan enclosures. I am uncertain about the value of the 'Ghost tunnel' approach to viewing. There must have been forethought to its construction. I would have liked to monitor and assess the visitors reactions but there were so very few about. I found a wallet on one of the paths so there was somebody somewhere.
In the 'ghost tunnel' there was a horrific and very graphic hand painted poster depicting the threats to Orangutans. I'm all for shock tactics but this startled me. Skulls, logging, pickled babies, circuses, vivisection, men having sex with Orangutans! What? I must have been leading a very sheltered life. I suppose I was as much surprised to see the depiction as having to entertain the obscene thought even for a microsecond. I looked at the scene several times to see if I was seeing what I thought I was seeing. I was.
The Orangutan enclosures contained very happy busy active animals. They were the best I have seen for the species. The whole set up is complemented the by its excellent gardens and labelled trees, security and education centre. This is great, interesting and fun. Apart from the graphics there are numerous life size individually garishly painted Orangutans. I would love to own one. If I had somewhere to keep it, that is Whilst I was in the centre I saw Dr. Willie Smits but I didn't know it was him till after the event (I had been told he was on Kalimantan) so I didn't introduce myself.
If I consider the centre to be separate zoo to Ragunan (and I think I should) then it rates very highly with me. It is outstanding in many ways and is amongst the best all round primate collections I have ever seen. Now, if they could only finish it!
And then I am out of the gate and back into Ragunan zoo and its mix of good, bad and indifferent. Here (after seeing the Fishing Cat heaven in Singapore zoo) you will find fishing cat hell....though I have seen them housed in worse.
So what about the zoo? Using the 'Palm Civet Gauge' I found that some were badly off and others were okay (some had branches placed vertically and others horizontally). So that about sums the zoo up. Good in parts.
It is an immense collection spread over a huge fragmented area. I saw something in the region of 30 Komodo Dragons in nine enclosures in three different areas of the zoo. Twelve elephants in four differently managed enclosures, one held separately. Tigers? They were all over the place. Again in a variety of set ups of wide size fluctuation. Some of the better ones were built by funds from the 'Schmutzer group and John Aspinall' in 21 April 1995. Actually there are a few Aspinall mentions around the place and of course that is where the gorillas originated.
Lions too. Nice enclosure on one side of the zoo and a poor one on the other side.
There was an animal show taking place. I didn't go and see it, I didn't have to, there was a board with photographs on it. Would you put your baby....baby! in the coils of a massive python. Looking at the faces of some of these tiny infants they were absolutely terrified. Sicko's!!!!
I had promised Ulla I would visit her again today at around noon. We had lunch together and she told me something of her fascinating life history. She then introduced me to some more of the Orangutans which only served to emphasise to me how critical it was to get these poor animals rehoused. I then took my leave of Ulla. I don't know if I will ever meet her again but I
found her to be a lovely woman. Straight talking, doesn't mince her words. Speaks as she sees it. At the same time dedicated to her animals on whom she showers an endless affection and love.
I made my way round the zoo again, checking the map as I went I felt fairly satisfied that I had missed nothing. Nothing apart from the multitude of Gibbons that I could hear whooping in off show areas.
If you have enjoyed reading this article you should move onto the next, entitled ‘Seaworld Indonesia‘ as soon as it is published. Or you could move back to Singapore Night Safari if you missed it. Please also check out my blog Zoo News Digest.
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tony greenwoods on October 24, 2009:
HI Peter ,
your reports have been very helpful and prompted me to go see for myself ,i have been in touch with your friend Barbara who has helped me with a great deal of background knowledge & allowed me to be a house guest .My full report will follow .Great work ,
Many Thanks Tony
Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on October 17, 2009:
dohn121: when I set out on my travels I never took a camera, though I admit to one now. There was a half hearted little gimmick on my hand held computer and that was all. This was deliberate as I met so many people who had holidayed in exotic locations but only saw them through a lens. I wanted to paint my memories with words. Now I sort of regret it because I have seen some wonderous things and met and loved some beautiful people. I wish I had the photos now.
My German is hopeless. My 'Thai' girlfriends first language is Lao and I hear it spoken more often than most. If they would just stop lacing it with Khmer and Thai I would be fluent in something.
dohn121 from Hudson Valley, New York on October 17, 2009:
Thanks Peter. My only gripe about this hub is that there weren't enough pictures! A couple of the gorillas would've been nice...Around how many tigers were there? I'm just curious. Ulla does sound fascinating and I had no idea that you could speak German. How's your Lao? Just kidding! Thanks again as always, a great hub.