Basel Zoo recently put a young baby monkey to sleep. After severe criticism, the zoo defended the decision.
The orangutan Revital suddenly found herself dead in her enclosure at Basel Zoo. The animal had given birth to a young just a few days earlier. This was next to the dead mother in the enclosure – alive, according to Basel Zoo. Nevertheless, the zoo decided to put the baby to sleep. And that sparked outrage.
For example, SP Councilor Christine Keller referred to a case in the Berlin Zoo. Unlike in Basel, a young monkey that had been rejected by its mother was raised there. “Why was that with the euthanized young animal at Basel Zoo not possible?”, she asks via Twitter. «The case shows how necessary fundamental rights for primates would be!»
With this, Keller is addressing the cantonal primate initiative, which was voted on a year ago in Basel-Stadt and which she supported. The initiative wanted basic rights for primates, which would also have given them a “right to life”. The electorate clearly rejected the initiative. However, the topic was discussed controversially and emotionally beyond the canton’s borders.
In Basel, one had already seen how a monkey was raised with a bottle: in 1959, Goma was the first gorilla cub to be born in a European zoo. The zoo director at the time, Ernst Lang, took little Goma into his home and raised the animal with a bottle.
Basel Zoo has now taken a different path than Goma. Zoo Director Olivier Pagan explains the decision with the rearing of humans. “In the short term, there are chances of success. But in the long term this is a problem for the animal and we wanted to spare it this suffering.”
The animal does not know whether humans or the other great apes are its own species.
The problem is the imprint of an animal that has been raised by humans. Back in the enclosure, it doesn’t feel like coming home anymore. “The animal doesn’t know whether humans or apes are its own kind,” says Pagan. Emotionally, it is somewhere between a chair and a bench.
Zurich zoo director cared for monkeys at home
Alex Rübel was director of the Zurich Zoo until 2020 and he too has experience raising a great ape at his home: the orangutan boy Ujian was born in 1994 and was rejected by his mother. Without further ado, Rübel took him and his family to live with him. “Ujian was like a fourth child for us,” Rübel told the “Basler Zeitung”. In the first few months, the animal always sought physical contact, even at night. His wife even had to take the young orangutan with her when she went shopping – hidden. After seven months, Ujian was then placed in a special rearing station. Today the 27-year-old lives in a zoo in Belgium.
A fate that was also observed with Goma: after being raised by humans, the animal was brought back to the gorillas at Basel Zoo. There, Goma remained an outsider for many years. Precisely because great apes and humans are so similar, it is problematic when a person raises a great ape, according to Basel Zoo.
Orphanage for monkeys
Among the orangutans in Basel, there was no other female who could have taken in and breastfed the young of the deceased mother, says Pagan. No such animal was found in other zoos either.
There are breeding stations, for example in Sumatra. But Basel Zoo had concerns there too – precisely because the animals are raised there by people. However, the zoo has also had good experiences with breeding stations: Less than a year ago, Basel Zoo received a male orangutan from one of these monkey orphanages. It’s easy to settle in at Basel Zoo, says Pagan.
Pagan can understand the criticism of putting the young monkey to sleep, even if he doesn’t share it. One thinks about ethics in the zoo, he assures, but: “It is a discourse and there is no conclusive answer to ethical questions.”