The owner of the Pata Zoo in Thailand has refused to release the female gorilla Bua Noi, who has been caged in a high-rise mall for 33 years.
Bua Noi, whose name means “Little Lotus,” has been locked in a 20-by-10-meter cage for more than 30 years in a zoo located in Bangkok’s oldest shopping mall, Pata Pinklao Department Store.
Healthy gorillas can live 35 to 40 years in the wild and up to 50 years in captivity.
Although the zoo was previously ordered to close in 2015 by officials of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation due to a lack of paperwork, the zoo kept the gorilla and eventually re-opened.
Since 2015, the Thai government and the animal rights group PETA have been fighting for the “world’s saddest gorilla” to be released. Animal advocates as well as singer and animal activist Cher have pushed for Bua Noi’s freedom, hoping for her to live among other gorillas and eventually die peacefully.
The owner of the zoo allegedly told Thai Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Varawut Silpa-archa that he would only free the gorilla for 30 million Thai baht (approximately $790,000).
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Last week, Thanetpol Thanaboonyawat, the secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources, said they had been organizing fundraising events, but they have not raised enough money.
“We have held activities in the past campaigning for Bua Noi’s release and to raise funds. We collected donations from Bua Noi’s supporters. But the problem is that the owner refuses to sell Bua Noi,” Thanetpol reportedly told ViralPress. “When he does agree to sell her, the price is too high. Bua Noi is considered private property so we cannot do anything to remove her. The owner bought Bua Noi before laws were introduced to prevent the trade and ownership of endangered animals and wild animals.”
However, the department store company denied any negotiations to sell Bua Noi to any agencies, claiming that the gorilla has become accustomed to the “disease-free” environment after more than 30 years.
“The department store executives turned down a plan to relocate the gorilla as earlier requested by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. They were not certain that Bua Noi, which has been used to the absence of natural pathogens, could adjust to a new environment,” the company reportedly wrote in a Facebook post on Saturday.
“Before opening, we consulted zoologists and veterinarians and only selected animals that were suitable for the zoo. And they have been treated well,” the zoo’s director, Kanit Sermsirimongkol, said. “The criticism doesn’t concern me because we know her best. Those people saw the picture of her on the internet and assumed she’s depressed. But that’s how she looks just like humans — some have a sad face and some have a happy face.”
“We have been taking care of Bua Noi like our own daughter,” he added. “I know that we will have to find her a suitable new home one day, but it’s not good idea to immediately release her back into the wild without teaching her how to survive on her own.”
The living conditions of Bua Noi are “horrifying and cruel,” and she is suffering “extreme psychological distress,” according to PETA Asia Senior Vice President Jason Baker.
“This shabby facility is internationally condemned as one of the worst zoos in the world,” Baker said. “I urge everyone to keep the pressure on Pata Zoo and to demand that it let PETA help retire these animals to reputable sanctuaries that would meet their physical and mental needs.”