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THAILAND’S LAST GORILLA LIVES IN DECREPIT ZOO ATOP A MALL

At a recent visit to Pata Zoo in Pata Pinklao Department Store, Khaosod English found primates in bare, isolated cages—including Bua Noi, the last gorilla in Thailand.

The zoo is located on top of a 37-year-old outdated mall full of “sale” signs, cheap tech stores, and empty, dirty tenant spaces. After buying a ticket on the fifth floor, visitors can head to see animal exhibits on the sixth floor. Reptiles and amphibians are on the seventh floor, while the rooftop area is for mammals and birds.

Bua Noi, now around 28 years old, was found during the visit languidly lying on the concrete floor and listlessly poking at a chewed-up ball.

Bua Noi became the star attraction of the 36-year-old zoo when she was bought as a 1-year-old from Germany in 1992. In 2015, the zoo refuted claims that Bua Noi “looks sad,” saying that her tears are just natural lubrication from her eyes. The zoo alleges that it spends 100,000 baht a month on her care, and once successfully refuted activist claims that the zoo was operating illegally.

A zookeeper by Bua Noi’s exhibit said she wouldn’t be able to survive in the wild even if released, having lived in the zoo all her life.

“They won’t let her go at this point. She’s worth at least 10 million baht now,” he said.

More frantic action came from the cage across from Bua Noi, containing the orangutan Pangpond, 6, and his mom, Porn, around 30 years old. Both were born in Pata Zoo. Their cage consists of wooden climbing beams, some tires, and a long chain, which the pair constantly yank. A monkey minder warned visitors not to get too close to the cage, since Pangpond often spits.Behind Bua Noi’s exhibit is an unmarked cage with smeared windows, where a lone chimpanzee paces and stares listlessly. The more open-air cages contain smaller monkeys, such as macaques and gibbons, for which zoo visitors can purchase bananas to feed. Most are isolated in bare cages.

Porcupines are motionless in their dirty hay enclosures, only coming to life to munch on corn husks thrown to them. Isolated bearcats lie still in a corner, while two desert foxes in another pace over the concrete and fake stumps.

City pests roam amid the exhibited animals in the farm section, where a dozen goats are crammed into one enclosure. A rat could be seen drinking from the pond that is the home of a gray crowned crane. Adjacent are pens of ducklings, a pair of rabbits, and a couple of dwarf pigs, cowering in a corner to get away from the pigeons that have come to peck at their feed.

Recently, foreign tabloids such as The Sun have published articles about Bua Noi, using Trip Advisor reviews as sources. Zoo director Kanit Sermsirimongkol, in a recent interview with MThai, said that fake news is on a “mission to destroy Pata Zoo by exploiting Thai peoples’ sense of pity.”

“Animals in zoos are generally well treated, and can mate,” Kanit said. “People can get dramatic over even the best zoo in the world.”