Uruguay’s Montevideo Zoo giving away its big cats

Montevideo’s municipal zoo is giving up its two tigers, bending to pressure from animal rights protesters and a lack of funds to create a healthier environment for them. They will be sent to a sanctuary in the United States.

Many municipal zoos have tried to transform themselves into animal conservation societies, replacing cramped iron cages with more natural animal pens and fostering habitat preservation to support the remaining animals in the wild. In keeping with a global conservation strategy first drafted in 1993 by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the London Zoo this year renovated its tiger habitat — an area about one third of the entire Montevideo zoo, at a cost of about $4.8 million.

The city spends about $1,000 per month just to feed the tigers, but the social pressure was a more important factor than the money, authorities said.

According to the World Wildlife Foundation, the wild tiger population has plunged by more than 95 percent since 1900, from as many as 100,000 to as few as 3,200. And yet, there’s a surplus of big cats in captivity. They’re no longer wanted by zoos and circuses, but can’t be given away by reputable institutions to people who don’t have adequate environments to house them.

Montevideo finally found a solution when it met with Animals Without Homes, an Uruguayan organization that works with zoos and circuses to move unwanted animals into better environments. The organization is currently in talks with the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Texas and the National Tiger Sanctuary in Missouri. The plan is to transfer the animals without compensation or cost to the city, said the organization’s spokesman, Eduardo Etcheverry.

Eduardo Rabellino, Montevideo’s acting director of arts and sciences, said the tigers are just waiting for their traveling papers now. “The idea is to make the transfer this year,” he said.

With their departure, the little Montevideo zoo will focus on smaller South American creatures that are easier to maintain, Tabares said. The zoo’s last elephant died last year of arthrosis, a bone disease common to captive animals. Zookeepers also hope to find new homes for a giraffe and a hippopotamus.

Source | Associated Press