Public outrage over the recent deaths of an endangered gorilla in Mexico, a depressed polar bear in Argentina, and the shooting of two lions in Chile and a Jaguar in Brazil, has some animal activists hopeful that Latin America is developing a new consciousness about captivity.
"The recent loss of specimens is devastating, but it is also good to make people aware of all the damage caused by these institutions," Elliot Katz, founder of the animal rights organization In Defense of Animals, said of zoos.
It all began in late May, when a young man jumped into the lions' pen at the main zoo in the Chilean capital of Santiago.
The 20-year-old stripped naked, entered the enclosure, and wrapped his arms around the neck of one of the lions. The zoo's staff unsuccessfully tried to repel the animals with water and tranquilizers before shooting them dead.
The zoo said that saving the man's life was its priority. The Cincinnati zoo said the same thing a week later when guards there killed gorilla Harambe after a toddler fell in his enclosure.
In both cases animal rights advocates condemned the lack of surveillance that allowed humans to enter the animals' territory.
"Zoos knowingly hold dangerous wild animals in close proximity to the public, yet incident after incident shows they are not prepared for the consequences," said Fleur Dawes, communications director at IDA. "Repeated failures by zoos to tranquilize animals in dangerous situations reveal their dirty secret, zoos treat animals as expendable money-making machines."
A few weeks later, a female jaguar called Juma was shot dead moments after he escaped from his handlers during a ceremony to light the Olympic torch on Brazilian soil in the Amazon city of Manaus.
Footage of the event shows the animal chained to a pole and surrounded by soldiers before being shot. The local environmental authority that oversees the use of wild animals said the use of the jaguar in the ceremony was illegal.
A few days later animal rights campaigners were celebrating a plan to shut down a 140-year-old zoo in Buenos Aires in Argentina and turn the space into a public park, though the good press turned bad last week with the death of a polar bear called Arturo.
The 31-year-old bear, kept in another zoo in the city of Mendoza, was said to be depressed due to the scorching temperatures common in the area. Activists had repeatedly tried to convince the government to move him to Canada.
The latest blow to the image of zoos, and fuel to frenzied activity on social media, came this week with the death of an endangered western lowland gorilla in Mexico City's main zoo called Bantú. The 24-year-old male died of a heart attack on July 6 after being sedated in preparation for a transfer to a zoo in the city of Guadalajara where the plan was for him to mate. Autopsy photos released Sunday by Mexican newspaper El Universal showed Bantú decapitated with his limbs severed caused additional outrage on social media.
"The zoo deaths of Bantu, Arturo, and the lions were all avoidable tragedies," said Dawes. "They reveal the expendable nature of animals in captive facilities."
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