LACOVIA, St Elizabeth — A multi-agency inspection has found non-compliance and areas of concern including a need for staff training at Jamaica Zoo in St Elizabeth, following last Friday’s incident in which a zoo attendant’s finger was bitten by a lion.
The incident has sparked widespread debate as to the care of exotic creatures.
Jamaica Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (JSPCA) Managing Director Pamela Lawson told the Jamaica Observer of her findings during the inspection of the zoo on Monday, which also included representatives from the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) and the Veterinary Services Division.
“It was interesting…We were there to make recommendations to put things in place so that not only are the animals safe in a better environment, but that the humans who have to interact with them — whether it be the workers or the visitors — would not be at risk or jeopardy,” she said.
NEPA, in a statement on Monday, said the zoo is in possession of two environmental permits under the Natural Resources Conservation Authority Act.
Lawson said staff training and animal welfare were among her areas of concern following the inspection.
“We highlighted some of the situations that we saw there that needed to be remedied and we are putting together a document for them,” she told the Observer on Tuesday.
“NEPA themselves, who have oversight over the zoo, are going to be the ones to put most of the recommendations, because they (zoo) are not compliant on a number of areas,” she explained.
She said the enclosure housing the now famous lion, named Santa Cruz, needs to be more friendly for the animal.
“Animal welfare is key and I feel there is much to do. We have to bring up the standard for the animals’ welfare — housing, nutrition, well-being — how they benefit, [so] that they do not suffer,” she said.
“At the moment there needs to be a lot of work done on the enclosures to make them more interactive for the animals. That there be more play and things to keep their attention rather than just [being] in a four by four [enclosure] and just be a spectacle,” she added.
JSPCA’s recommendations are to be sent to NEPA by later this week, according to Lawson.
NEPA, in its statement, said, “a report of the findings is being prepared for discussion amongst the visiting team to determine the final action to be taken”.
Last Friday’s incident, which was captured on video, went viral on social media and has gained international attention.
In a release dated Monday, but issued on Tuesday, the management of Jamaica Zoo Limited said the zoo attendant, whom they identified as a contractor, was receiving medical care for “minor injuries”.
The company added that it can assure the public that there will be cooperation with the relevant authorities.
“We will take all necessary steps to ensure that our patrons and stakeholders are safe and enjoy wholesome experiences when they visit our facility,” the release read in part.
“We continue to place on record that the health of our animals is paramount. They are loved and properly taken care of and that the enclosures in which they are accommodated and displayed are properly maintained,” the release added.
However, Lawson said the enclosures need to be more suitable for the animals in their existence.
She also said that the lion needs things to do.
“He needs interaction and it needs to be positive… As you approach him he is reactive,” she said. “Lions are not generally reactive, they are lazy creatures.
“The animal is used to being agitated. He needs toys or something to do. He has nothing to do,” she said.
Lawson said the need for proper interaction is among her recommendations as she pointed out that zoos should be used for educational purposes.
“The main specific thing for zoos nowadays worldwide is actually for education — for us to educate people on their (animal) care, well-being, what they require,” she said.
“If you are going to operate a zoo you have to set an example, so in my mind when all these schools and schoolchildren come around, it is not about the lion roaring , it is what it involves; What is a lion? What does it do? How does it exist and where is it found?” she added.
It is not about “making the lion roar and grab after you, which is what was being done last Friday. It was a show. Animal attractions do not hold traction worldwide and it sure as hell shouldn’t be holding traction in Jamaica. We have to bring ourselves up to the next level,” she said.
“When you work in animal welfare it doesn’t matter whether it be a vet, clinic, or zoo; there should be proper training regarding staff safety, animal safety, because we all know it only takes one simple mistake,” she said.
“If there is an accident it must be the exception and it must not be because the employee was being silly, wasn’t using good judgement. It must be because it was a genuine accident,” she added.
“You do not put your hand near a lion’s mouth, not while it is awake… He got off lightly, not many people can say they have been attacked by a lion and fared so well,” Lawson said.