Joburg Zoo steps in to rescue abused animals

The Johannesburg Zoo has come to the rescue of a number of endangered reptiles and amphibians found in cargo at OR Tambo International Airport. The animals had been kept in cramped conditions, without food or water for days.

 

THE Johannesburg Zoo responded swiftly to an animal emergency this week, stepping in to administer urgent attention to imported animals kept in cruel conditions.

 

The animals - reptiles and amphibians such as geckos, frogs, chameleons, skinks, lizards and toads - were found in a cargo consignment at OR Tambo International Airport. They had been imported from Madagascar and were bound for Atlanta, in the US.

 

However, while the importers could show permits for the animals' transfer, they had been kept in inhumane conditions. Some 1685 animals were crammed into two crates about half-a-metre each in size; many of them could hardly move to turn around and some were stuffed into plastic tubs.

 

When officials at the airport noticed a bad smell from the cargo area on Wednesday, they opened the crates to find the trapped animals, some of which were already dead, and others in need of urgent medical attention and food and water. It seems the animals had been without food or water for days. Officials believe that the almost 30 different species were to be sold as exotic pets.

 

By Wednesday night, staff members at Johannesburg Zoo were trying desperately to save the surviving animals, but by then at least 330 had died. Dr Brett Gardner, the Associate Vet and Head of the Amphibians and Reptile section at the Zoo, has been working closely with the NSPCA's wildlife protection unit; he says more than 360 of the creatures have died due to dehydration, kidney failure, cannibalism and infections.

 

In an interview with The Daily Star, Ainsley Hay, manager of the NSPCA wildlife protection unit described how the animals were stored; "The chameleons are so tightly wrapped [in muslin bags] that they form a cocoon; then they are hung from a stick like a hammock. This is how they stayed for five days." Hay says the NSPCA is investigating charges of animal cruelty and that the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries was also investigating the incident. He added that there might be additional charges after a full investigation.

Speaking to the Daily News, Gardener said some of the frogs were just the size of a thumbnail and were extremely rare. Many of the animals in the consignment are listed as endangered species under the Cites appendix II protocol; this means they can only be traded under a specific permit.

Gardener described the scene as a "massacre", saying, "How it works with this trade is that a few percent of the animals are expected to survive, but that is enough to make good money. For those that die, it is simply collateral damage."

Some of the frog species in the consignment can sell for $100 (R1 115) in the US; they can be bought in Madagascar for just $1.

 

The animals' futures are uncertain; Gardener says he hopes to give the surviving creatures to local zoos or other facilities not linked to the exotic pet trade. But in the meantime Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo has prioritised the animals' wellbeing and they are being closely monitored by the veterinarians at the Zoo's in-house hospital.

For a slideshow of the reptile shipment click here.

Please click here to read the report of the shipment

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