There was a time when the Surabaya Zoo, on the island of Java, was celebrated as Indonesia’s oldest and largest zoo, a place that housed thousands of exotic birds, reptiles and large animals from around the globe.
In recent years, however, it has become known as something else: a “death zoo.”
The disturbing label originated after a wave of animal deaths that have turned the formerly prosperous destination into an internationally despised institution. Hundreds of animals have died, according to Agence France Presse, including multiple orangutans, a giraffe, a wildebeest and, most recently, a critically endangered male tiger named Rama.
Veronika Lanu, a zoo spokeswoman, told AFP that the 16-year-old cat died of heart failure. Lanu insisted that the animal had been properly cared for.
“The death was due to natural causes; we provided the best care we could,” she said.
But AFP noted that Rama — who lived his entire life inside the zoo before dying April 10 — had a number of serious health problems and suffered from a bad cough and lethargy in the weeks before his death.
Sumatran tigers are the world’s most critically endangered tiger subspecies, with only 400 to 500 animals remaining in the wild, according to the World Wildlife Fund. The animals are threatened by poaching and clearing forests for palm oil, illegal coffee cultivation and timber, The Washington Post reported in 2014.
To critics, the tiger’s death fits a pattern of neglect and abuse at the Surabaya Zoo, which has more than 3,400 animals from around about 200 species, according to the BBC.
Plagued by overcrowded and filthy conditions, animals have been killed by malnutrition and disease, as well as freak accidents that hint at neglect, the BBC reported.
Other troubling deaths include a mountain goat that died from neck injuries and a giraffe that was found to have 44 pounds of plastic in its stomach at the time of its death, according to the BBC. Fox News referred the mound of trash as “a beachball-sized wad of plastic.”
In 2013, Fox reported, a 13-year-old male tiger named Rozek was found dead in his cage. A zoo spokesperson said at the time that an autopsy revealed that the tiger — which had been been plagued by respiratory and digestive problems for several years — was killed by complications from hepatitis and pneumonia.
Footage taken inside the zoo in 2013 shows animals wandering freely among patrons — some of whom feed them by hand — as well as animals chewing on plastic bags and playing with trash.
Multiple petitions have called for the Surabaya Zoo to be shut down.
“Animals are confined to trash-littered, barren, cramped cages that are measly fractions of the wild habitats that they would call home, and there is nothing in their cages and pens to occupy their keen minds,” says a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals petition with more than 213,000 signatures. “It is a virtual hell on Earth for animals — a former member of the zoo’s management estimates that 50 animals have died at the zoo in just the last three months, and this is just a small fraction of the animals who have suffered and died at the hands of this decrepit facility.”
The petition adds: “While it’s too late for many animals, hundreds of others endure the zoo’s hellish conditions every day. The Surabaya Zoo should be closed immediately, and the animals should be sent to sanctuaries or other facilities that are better able to care for them. The world is watching and waiting for officials to show their commitment to animal welfare.”
Administrators from city government have taken over the management of the zoo, according to AFP, but the stream of animal deaths continues.
With Rama’s death, three male Sumatran tigers and six females remain inside the zoo, AFP reported.