On the top floor of a decrepit mall in western Bangkok, the last gorilla in Thailand and her friends will live out their days, with rats and roaches as companions.
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The zoo is located on top of a 37-year-old outdated mall full of “sale” signs, cheap tech stores, and empty, dirty tenant spaces.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 and apes, 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.”
Pata refuted a rumor on June 27 that the mall is set to close down.
Laying Still in Darkness
If one skips the sixth floor in order to quickly see Bua Noi, one avoids the most spine-chilling parts of the mall-zoo.
The entire sixth floor is dimly-lit, possibly to accommodate the cool-blooded amphibians and reptiles, or to save on electricity. Only one in a nine-lightbulb cluster of ceiling lights is lit.
Three stingrays flap listlessly in a shallow pond flecked by chipped paint. Cobras, pythons, and other snakes lie still in the darkness. Half the exhibits are empty. A keeper says staff rotate the exhibits every day, putting some snakes out in a cage in the sun on the rooftop, so that they can disinfect and clean all of the exhibits.
“If you are curious, please ask questions. If one is curious, but uninformed, it turns into a misunderstanding,” a zookeeper said.
Large turtles, such as snapping alligator turtles, live in shallow ponds only a couple meters wide. Rodents are crammed into aquarium tanks: baby mice wiggling in a pile, albino rats (or another species – the exhibition info was missing) scratch at their nesting. Most disturbing was a jerboa endlessly ramming itself into one corner of the tank, its stick-thin legs scrubbing the floor.
“The night animals zone is full of cockroaches eating the food of the exhibit animals. They are carriers of disease,” wrote @hasaddd after visiting the zoo. “The red-eared slider turtle is also sick with puffy eyes.”
Some animals, such as iguanas and other lizards, were put in mostly-empty cages in a hall with no escape from the sun.
The entire look and feel of the zoo is severely outdated. Exhibit plaques, especially on the sixth floor, are no more than faded paper taped to plastic feature boards. The stage area was completely dark and abandoned, with empty food stalls. The snake section was decorated in an “ancient civilization theme,” with Khmer-style statues and broken pottery in some cages, and a shrine to a Hindu snake deity in one area.
A “learning center” was a desk with worn paper booklets taped to it, next to a tiny slide and a coin operated, weathered green elephant ride, all under flickering fluorescent lights. On the stairway between the sixth and seventh floors is a tiger statue surrounded by a mural of it being hunted by what looks like the British Raj and Indians on elephants.
The text under the statue reads, “The future of wild animals, whether they continue to exist or become extinct, is up to whether humans conserve or destroy them.”
Pata Zoo is located at Pata Department Store and is open 10am to 6pm every day, with magic and animal shows on the weekends. Tickets operate with dual pricing, 50 and 80 baht for Thai children and adults respectively, and 120 baht and 200 baht for foreign children and adults.