San Juan de Aragón zoo - A History of Neglect, Abuse, and Death.
Aragon Zoo was founded on November 20th, 1964 across from the San Juan de Aragon De woods in Mexico City, Mexico. The architectural design followed a radial pattern with semi-circular enclosures that allowed for watching the animals from any angle. 104 enclosures were built in 3 months, housing a total of 1650 animals from 135 different species. However, the zoo’s design with concrete floors, no shade, or fences to separate the animals from the visitors correctly, went against the concept of a modern zoo. The conditions were deplorable.
After analyzing the situation, the city’s authorities decided to remodel the zoo to follow modern zoos’ goals and purposes. They claimed they wanted to imitate natural habitats and conditions, as much as possible, for the animals’ welfare.
As a result of the modification efforts, and construction period, the zoo remained closed to the public from May 17th, 1999 to December 6th, 2002 to complete the zoo's remodeling.
The newly- remodeled zoo re-opened, but, despite the designers' intentions, most of the areas still don’t provide an appropriate environment for animals and their basic needs, and a big part of the zoo did not get the renovations. The facility still holds animals in concrete cages, no larger than a cell, and most of the remodeled enclosures lack the right flooring, shading, water, and vegetation for each species it holds. The facility continues providing the substandard care it had previously given to the animals; the changes were merely cosmetic, and there were no improvements.
A Deadly Zoo
Since 2013, 369 animals have died in the zoo, mostly due to negligence, unprepared, incompetent medical staff, and poorly-skilled, poorly-trained keepers. The zoo’s authorities themselves seem to be apathetic towards their animals, and that indifference will only lead to more suffering and abuse.
One of the neglected animals was Maggie, an Asian elephant that died in April 2016. Her death could have been prevented had she been given the kind of care all of the animals should receive. Maggie was euthanized after suffering from degenerative osteoarthritis.
That elephant is only one case, and Aragon zoo is exhibiting around 30 sick animals. There are also the cases of a chimpanzee and other primates, overweight felines, malnourished and injured coyotes, and mule deer showing lesions.
Reptiles have also been suffering from terrible care with 24 dead boas in a just a year, and the same goes for many species of birds. These numbers are outrageous and unacceptable, and the abusers must be held accountable.
Many more appalling incidences have happened in this and other areas of the zoo. To address these infractions, the flight exhibition has clearly got to be shut down for at least a year to give the birds a chance to rest and recover from excessive and abusive training. That is only one of many steps necessary to address the problem, and the dangers are exacerbated because the staff is not qualified, and neither are the vets.
Birds Of Prey - The Forgotten Ones.
Another notorious, yet ignored, case is with the Birds of Prey area. This area is famous for the trained-raptors-flight exhibition, which is, allegedly, designed to give visitors a conservation and ecological message regarding these species and their importance in the wild. However, 7 out of 24 birds have died in less than a year all due to negligence from their keepers, terrible medical care, and attention, and they are being overtrained. Part of the “training” handlers use includes using starvation/hunger to force them to fly. This abuse is perpetrated by rookie volunteers who are not being taught how to handle and care for the birds correctly.
The bird area holds a variety of species, all of them endangered. These are the birds that have died unnecessarily:
“Skan” male Harris’ Hawk: Died from hunger. The keepers should have noticed he wasn’t eating, but they never paid attention.
“Marco” male Crested Caracara: He was being rehabilitated and was not a bird that could be handled by anyone, especially rookies. However, the keepers let a rookie volunteer handle Marco, resulting in him being injured and then was not treated correctly. He died from stress from the “medical” treatment. The zoo staff first said he was being treated for “gout” then said Marco injured himself and did not withstand treatment.
“Vadir” male Aplomado falcon: His death is still not clear as the zoo claims he died of a neurological condition.
“Dijunn” female red-tail hawk: This bird died of heart and liver failure from a fat chicken-based diet. Raptors should not be fed chicken alone because of high-fat content and no nutrients in the meat. Chicken is extremely harmful, and any falconry expert, as the keepers claim to be, would know this. An appropriate diet for the birds consists of rabbits, rodents and similar prey they would have in the wild.
“Horus” Female Gray Hawk: She had an injured wing, and the vets decided to operate on her. However, they did not give Horus the proper post-op care. They left her alone in the mews with food. When she came to, still under the influence of the anesthesia, she tried to eat and choked herself to death with the food. No keepers or vets were around to help her. Properly-trained staff would have known not to leave an afflicted, compromised animal alone without being monitored.
“Inti” female Road-side hawk: She died due to egg retention caused by calcium deficiency. She had been sick months before she died, and no one intervened. When the staff finally decided to provide the medical care, she was too ill and did not survive the surgery to remove the egg.
“Garuda” male Golden eagle: The most endangered species of them all did not matter either. Garuda had been ill twice the year before with a respiratory infection, which would make him a bit sensitive to humid spaces. He was transferred to the quarantine area and was placed with a female eagle to try and start a reproduction program. However, the female was still a juvenile, making the reproduction impossible at the time. Ironically, animals in the quarantine area are never looked after or checked on during the day, despite a glaring need for careful and consistent monitoring. Neither the keepers nor the vets paid attention to realize Garuda was not eating and was sick again. According to the necropsy report, he had lost almost half his weight. This does not happen rapidly on a raptor; it takes months, and there was ample time for them to realize he was not eating and take corrective action, yet they didn’t. By the time they figured something was wrong and decided to treat Garuda, it was too late. They stressed him too much with the medical procedures, injured his wings, and left him alone and unattended in a mews overnight. The next morning, he was discovered dead.
Along with these deaths are several cases of more of the Raptors being sick, like Anu, a young male Harris’ Hawk that was overworked and starved to the point he was beginning to develop what the staff says was trichomoniasis (a beak and throat infection caused by a bacteria and a weakened immune system). This was treated correctly, but Anu ended up eating one of his fingers from being almost starved to death. This negligence and abuse are abhorrent but pervasive at this facility.
Melitta, the Andean Condor, also shows signs of severe stress, as she is plucking her chest feathers.
All of the animals in that zoo are in grave danger. They are not well taken care of and are victims of exploitation, black market, negligence, and abuse.
San Juan de Aragón zoo, along with Mexico City’s other two zoos, are in dire need of transformation, and not just architecturally, but the management and staff must be completely revamped to include the staff and volunteers receiving extensive training on how to properly care for the animals they manage. This facility is one of scores of examples that zoos have to stop being centers for entertainment and become more like sanctuaries and havens for all these species, and officials must stop viewing cosmetic changes or improvements as progressive and positive change.
Adding to the horrors evidenced in this facility is the zoo’s fallacious claim they are stewards of the animal populations. Aragon is famous for being successful with the Mexican Gray Wolf reintroduction program, but what good does it serve to only focus on one species if you have many other animals dying from terrible conditions, neglect and illnesses? Like the cosmetic improvements from the remodeling of the zoo, the Wolf program is used as a defense the zoo serves a positive purpose. The zoo hides a world of sins behind the cleaned up visual image.
Stereotypic behavior is quite evident in many animals at the zoo. Those behaviors include pacing, rocking, swimming in circles, excessive sleeping, self-mutilation (including feather picking and excessive grooming), and mouthing cage bars. These behaviors are signs of extreme stress, depression, anxiety, and even mental-health problems.
Activists are struggling to help these animals, to transform zoos, and change the whole system in Mexico. To this day, however, the authorities still ignore the activists and are indifferent to the plight of the animals.
The change must begin with you and be shared with the rest of the people unwilling to permit these continued abuses.