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BUENOS AIRES ZOO CLOSES AFTER 140 YEARS

BUENOS AIRES ZOO CLOSES AFTER 140 YEARS

Created in 1874, the zoo was an emblem of the European-influenced city. Afterward, it made few changes to its Victorian-era display of 1,500 animals.


The Buenos Aires city government has announced the closing of the Buenos Aires Zoo, a private enterprise. This is the first step in rededicating the 18-acre terrain located in Palermo, one of the most traditional neighborhoods in the Argentine capital. For 142 years, the site functioned as a zoo. The government head Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, announced that an interactive eco-park will be constructed, which involves the transfer of some 1,500 animals to natural reserves and sanctuaries across the country, from African elephants and rhinoceroses to snakes and exotic animals.

The closing of the zoo was an long-term petition of animal rights groups. In fact, 2015 was an especially dramatic year: a giraffe calf, two sea lions, and a mara, or Patagonian hare, died. The petitions, however, were difficult to advance in the form of bills in the city legislature. Now, the head of city government has decided how to resolve the matter. "The zoo cannot cope. We are convinced the decision to turn it into an eco-park is the right step, in tune with similar decisions that have been made in other large cities of the world. Now it will be an environmental complex that promotes environmental education. The number of animals will be reduced gradually," said Rodríguez Larreta.

As the years passed, the zoo remained in the middle of neighborhoods with skyscrapers, in front of the land of the Argentine Rural Society (ARS)  and meters from the Botanical Garden. The Third of February Park extends to the east, which is the largest green space in the Argentine capital. In 1991, the zoo was privatized and its cages were modernized. An aquarium was built, the lions were moved to open pits, and the polar bears, locked in traditional cages until then, were moved to a swimming pool. However, the Victorian model for exhibiting the exotic animals was still used.

"The most important thing is to break with the captivity and exhibition model," said Gerardo Biglia, lawyer for the NGO SinZoo, one of the biggest supporters of closing the zoo. "A zoo transmits a perverse message, especially since the target audience is children, and we are telling them that locking up a living being for our entertainment is valid. I believe that now the model is changing, and we have been ready for a long time because when you suggest to children that it is not okay to lock up animals, it seems obvious to them," explains Biglia. There were multiple judicial filings against the poor conditions of the zoo animals' enclosures, but few were successful. A drop in income made the zoo unprofitable and the financial officers of the company stopped paying fees 6 months ago, anticipating the official conversion plans. The Committee for the Transformation of the Buenos Aires Zoo recommended moving toward an eco-park model that would be open to the community. Before the animals are removed, they will be registered, their health status checked, and their new location determined.

The government estimates that around 50 species will remain because moving them would put their lives at risk. Among them is the orangutan Sandra, who rose to fame after a court ruling declared her "subject to rights as a non-human person." Explains Biglia, "Sandra's problem is that she is a hybrid, a mixture of Borneo and Sumatra's orangutan, and that's why she doesn't socialize with others of her species." Eventually, the intention is that all animals who remain will no longer be exhibited. "What you need to do is to remove the stress on the animal from being exhibited. Today they are like pieces in a museum: the place the animals sleep is closed off when the public arrives, forcing them to be visible," says the lawyer of SinZoo.

The official idea is to convert zoo buildings into interactive spaces for environmental education, with the support of technological media. It will also serve as an animal clinic for animals that have been victims of illegal trafficking. The design of the park will be chosen in an international competition of urban planners and landscapers. In addition, the residents of Buenos Aires can submit projects for the transformation of the green space, which will be evaluated by a jury.