By Mar Centenera
BUENOS AIRES – The Buenos Aires zoo, listed as a national historic monument for its Victorian pavilions, is facing an uncertain future after the attempt by the capital government to sell it to the highest bidder, a move that was stopped in the courts by the opposition at the last moment.
Located in Palermo, one of Buenos Aires’ fashionable districts, the zoo, which opened its doors in 1875, covers 18 hectares (45 acres) and houses some 2,000 animals of 73 species.
A tour through its facilities is like taking a trip back in time. There are primates behind the bars of an Andalusian aviary and three elephants move around near their Hindu temple and seem bored in their small allocated space.
Privatized in the 1990s under the government of Carlos Menem, in recent years the institution has been bitterly criticized regarding the situation of the animals and now is the focus of a political battle over the decision by Mayor Mauricio Macri to auction it off.
A report by the General Auditing authorities of Buenos Aires said that between 1990 and 2008 the institution lost 31 species of mammals and 72 species of birds, representing 23 percent and 55 percent, respectively, of the zoo’s collections.
The center’s current director, conservationist Claudio Bertonatti, who has been in the post for six months, acknowledges the figures, but downplays their significance.
“Many people think that the more species there are in a zoo, the better it is, but that’s a mistake. We could increase the number of species if we would accept all animals that are recovered in seizures, but we don’t do that because they arrive in very bad shape and it would be counterproductive,” Bertonatti told Efe.
Bertonatti said that, on the contrary, he feels “proud” that in recent years the institution has been able to “return to nature” some 400 animals, among them “107 Andean condors that are now flying free in several countries of Latin America.”
In his judgment, the zoo must transform itself “from an entertainment center into a conservation center with four objectives: conserving, educating, doing research and, lastly, entertaining.”
His model is the Bronx Zoo because in Buenos Aires, as is the case in the New York facility, the ideal thing would be for the animals to live in “conditions of semi-freedom,” although he admitted that the former institution has six times the space as his zoo and the Buenos Aires facility “cannot be expanded.”
While conservationists are concerned about improving the zoo and the animals’ wellbeing, local politicians have become engaged in a legal battle about the zoo’s future.
Judge Elena Liberatori last week accepted the appeal presented by opposition lawmaker Adrian Camps and suspended the public auction pushed for by the city government.
The judge ruled that any future arrangement for the zoo must be approved by the legislature, but the head of the General Directorate of Concessions of Buenos Aires, Silvia Imas, said that they will appeal the ruling because they feel that the auction “is the best option to regularize a concession that is out-of-date and to have five years to rethink how the zoo of the future will be.” EFE