No chance of parole for Bangkok’s imprisoned gorilla

After the latest round of public outcry, authorities claim for the umpteenth time that little can be done about gorilla Bua Noi, 33 years old, confined to a small cell in a Bangkok shopping mall.

According to Natural Resources and Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-archa, the owners are free to continue doing as they please with the beast they have kept in medieval conditions for decades.

Swerving any responsibility for Bua Noi’s plight, Varawut said …

“Pata Zoo promised to take care of her until her last days. And as her owner, it has the right to do so. In principle, we cannot take what belongs to them. Many things need to be settled first.”

No chance of parole for Bangkok's imprisoned gorilla | News by Thaiger
Refusing to act on the matter, Minister Varawut admits to being impotent in Bua Noi’s case.

The minister was speaking in response to a statement posted on Pata Zoo’s Facebook page, which said the gorilla was not being held to ransom as claimed by Varawut’s secretary, Thaneadpon Thanaboonyawat.

The situation is not helped by some absurd suggestion in the press, not least that the last gorilla in Thailand should return to a “home” in Germany that she left as an infant more than 30 years ago. Even more ridiculously, many netizens think that she should be set free, though whether that should be done in Thailand, Germany or an appropriate location in Africa has not been made clear.

Bua Noi has spent over 30 years in a 20-by-10-metre cage on the top floor of Bangkok’s oldest shopping mall – Pata Pinklao Department Store.

Those who visit the mall must surely bear a portion of the blame for the creature’s despicable condition. There is no shortage of gleeful shoppers snapping pics of their kids in front of Bua Noi’s cage, wilfully oblivious to her suffering.

Australian Jodi Broad launched a campaign on to save Bua Noi some nine years ago. As of Sunday afternoon, a mere 116,942 netizens had signed the campaign.

Broad’s plea reads…

“We need the world to help us convince the owner of the Pata high-rise shopping mall zoo to release Little Lotus and the other primates into better environments with family groups of their kind. They live alone, in a world of concrete and steel, with zero stimulation. A life of boredom and solitude for our great primate cousins is the cruellest fate of all… please sign and share our petition,”

On Saturday, Thaneadpon told reporters that Varawut was inexplicably planning to repatriate Bua Noi to a zoo in Germany where she was born, whereupon Pata Zoo was said to have demanded 30 million baht (US$800,000) – without giving any indication how this fanciful figure was arrived at.

Thaneadpon said the Ministry had received many complaints from visitors and wildlife activists about Bua Noi’s condition and admitted that she deserves a better life.

No chance of parole for Bangkok's imprisoned gorilla | News by Thaiger
Pata Zoo bought the gorilla from a German zoo in 1992 for 3 million baht when she was three years old. She’s been a valuable investment with the zoo said to be demanding a 30 million baht ransom for the prisoner.

Pata Zoo bought the gorilla from Germany in 1992 for 3 million baht when she was three years old. The zoo responded to Thaneadpon’s statement by saying no Pata executive had made any agreements with anyone or any agency to sell Bua Noi, which is no surprise with a hypothetical 30 million baht up for grabs. Gorilla “experts” working for the mall rejected the plan to relocate Bua Noi, claiming she is too old to adjust to a new environment. The mall management also said she is well looked after, again without any evidence to back up the claim. The mall claims to spend 10,000 baht (US$260) per month on her “care”. They also claim to hold regular meetings about the primate’s well-being, though where, when and with whom was not disclosed.

Varawut admitted that his Ministry was completely impotent in the face of animal’s unspeakable situation. On Sunday, he said that the “Free Bua Noi” campaign began well before he became environment minister in 2019 and that frequent discussions between the ministry and the zoo had been before he took over. He added that his ministry was well aware that experts, both local and foreign, will have to be consulted and many preparations made before Bua Noi was “returned to the wild,” a suggestion so absurd as to be an insult to the intelligence of all involved.

“We won’t make a decision on our own. Many steps have to be taken and that will take time,” he said.

Doubtless it will be more about money than time.

No chance of parole for Bangkok's imprisoned gorilla | News by Thaiger
Absurdly, some local activists believe that Bua Noi should be “returned” to the wild.

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Jon Whitman

Jon Whitman is a seasoned journalist and author who has been living and working in Asia for more than two decades. Born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland, Jon has been at the forefront of some of the most important stories coming out of China in the past decade. After a long and successful career in East sia, Jon is now semi-retired and living in the Outer Hebrides. He continues to write and is an avid traveller and photographer, documenting his experiences across the world.