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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Bolivian Zoo Becomes Refuge for Trafficked Animals

The zoo says an increasing number of trafficked animals seized by the authorities are arriving every month.
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It’s another busy day at the Vesty Pakos Zoo in La Paz. Hundreds of screaming schoolchildren are running from one enclosure to another excitedly pointing at the lions, tigers and other exotic creatures on display.
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Most of them don’t know that the majority of the inhabitants of this unique zoo have been rescued from unloved homes all around the country.
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The animal population stands at just over 540. There are pumas, jaguars, Andean bears, condors, turtles among many others. Many have gone through a long process of rehabilitation before they can face the public.

Andrea Morales, director of the Vesty Pakos Zoo, told teleSUR, "80 percent of the animals and birds have been donated or abandoned. Sadly we are also seeing more and more cases of animals that have been illegally trafficked."

The vast majority of the animals and exotic birds arrive in very poor condition. Some birds have no feathers, their legs are broken and they can’t fly. Other larger animals have been badly mistreated by their previous owners. Many are missing their fur, dehydrated and badly malnourished.

They’re starving not just for food but also for attention. The most dramatic case that the zoo has dealt with so far this year is that of the Andean bear named Ajayu.

"He arrived dying two months ago, his owners in Cochabamba had beaten him until he was blind,’’ said Silvana Gili, a staff member at the zoo.

Ajayu was one of the lucky animals. He managed to survive and is now integrated with the other seven Andean bears that were also saved from terrible conditions.

Silvana Gili told teleSUR, "Often the animals arrive in a very bad state. We do everything we can to save them."

Fifteen years ago the zoo decided to stop buying animals. They didn’t need to as stocks were high and they were overwhelmed with the numbers of trafficked and abandoned animals arriving every day.

"One day we arrived at work and there was a box left outside the front entrance,'' said Francisco Quispe, head of the game keepers at the zoo. "When we opened the box, to our surprise we found a puma inside." They called the puma Carmel and nursed her back to life by bottle feeding her for weeks until she regained her strength.

The zoo is now almost full to capacity and the authorities say they can’t take in many more new cases.

Most of the animals at the Vesty Pakos Zoo should be living in their natural habitats in the Andan highlands or in the tropical jungles in the North of the country. But poachers trap the most precious and rare animals mostly for trafficking. Depending on the size and type of animal or how exotic they are, they can fetch up to US$50,000 on the illegal market.

Two months ago in the town of Patacamaya villagers found a rare Andean cat walking down main street said Andrea Morales. The Andean cat is a species that normally lives in the highlands of Bolivia, Peru and Chile and is in danger of extinction.

The arrival of the cat brought biologists from all over the country to the zoo because "it was so rare to see this cat up close" Andrea Morales told teleSUR. The biologists are still carrying out tests to rule out any infections. If he is deemed healthy, he will be returned to his natural habitat.

The Bolivian government is trying to clamp down on poachers removing these animals from their natural habitats. "We try to educate families and school children about the dangers of these actions,’’ said Francisco Quispe.

But judging by the number of new animals turning up on their doorstep every week, its clear some people are not getting the message.

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