Dubai: Zoo's poor conditions were highlighted Thursday by two activists from the international animal rights group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) who marched down Jumeirah Beach Road with chimp masks and in striped convict suits.
Outnumbered by media and police in the midday heat, the tiny rally held at 1pm lasted barely a few minutes as the two protesters marched towards the zoo entrance with placards reading Zoos: Cruel Animal Prisons.
Two other Dubai-resident activists were on hand to distribute flyers. This was Peta's first anti-zoo protest in the Middle East.
Jason Baker, director of Peta for the Asia-Pacific region, and one of the dressed-up activists, said the non-confrontational rally ‘might be pushing the envelope more than usual' in terms of raising awareness on animal right's issues in the Middle East but the group's intention is to educate the public. It is not an act of aggression, said Baker.
Colonel Abdullah Ali Abdullah Al Gaithi, deputy director of protective and security department from Dubai Police called the protest a ‘public nuisance'. With no permission to protest granted, the Peta representatives were asked to leave immediately and put in a taxi.
"Without permission this is not allowed," said Al Gaithi. He added that permission for protests are not issued. "They should not be walking like this down the street with people in their cars watching like a cinema. We are educated. There is no need to stand in the sun here like this," he said.
No comment was available from zoo officials present during the protest, or the Public Parks and Horticulture Department at Dubai Municipality which manages the zoo.
Ashley Fruno, a Peta senior campaigner said permission to protest had been denied by the Municipality. "I think they expected us to be more confrontational than we were. I thought once they saw us, they'd shrug their shoulders and just let us hand out some flyers. We will come back, this won't stop us," she said at a coffee shop after the protest.
Peta's aim is to get Jojo, a chimp, relocated to a sanctuary. The primate spends the day ‘panting miserably', said Baker.
Before the demonstration he told Gulf News, Dubai zoo is "one of the worst I've ever seen. You can smell it from a block away — zoos don't usually smell that bad."
Baker said he had visited the zoo but does not know where the animals come from. "The pens are tiny and the animals have just concrete to live on. Most of the animals belong in temperate climates but here they pant all day in 50 degrees Celsius heat," he said.
Dubai Zoo was established in the late 1960's on a two hectare plot. Eighty per cent of the animals have been rescued from smugglers and placed there by customs.
"We've heard that excuse before," said Baker. "I can't imagine chimps in a worse situation." He added that Peta did not meet with the zoo or Dubai Municipality, nor do they plan to during their brief visit.
"Meeting with zoo supervisors rarely changes anything. They know how bad the conditions are. We don't want the zoo to get bigger land because that would lead to more animals — we just want people to realise zoos are not helping endangered animals."
UAE residents, Sangeetha and Sandhya Bhaskaran took part in the Peta protest yesterday to raise public awareness on animal rights, and the need for zoos to provide better care for caged animals.
"It is surprising, that of all the places, Dubai a city that boasts perfection in everything else has such a small and poorly maintained zoo," said Sangeetha, 25, from India.
Sandhya, 21, added that even calling it a zoo is ‘a stretch' because it is so cramped, hot and dirty and that "something needs to be done! The protest was not an act of aggression or an attempt to get the zoo shut down, but simply just to raise public awareness of how the animals are treated there," said Sangeetha. "This must have been misunderstood by officials," she added.
However, Sandhya said after the protest was stopped so quickly by zoo officials and the police, "it could show that they must have something to hide".