After facing backlash over the taunting of a resident lion, Jamaica Zoo has been ordered to close. On Wednesday, June 1st, the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) rescinded its environmental permit, which gave Jamaica Zoo Attractions Limited the license to operate a zoo. As a result, the Jamaica Zoo has officially been closed to the public as of June 1st. This doesn’t necessarily mean the zoo will never reopen, as the closure will cease if the company complies with the conditions of the notice.
In the incident, a man identified by the zoo as “a contractor” puts his finger into a lion’s cage to show off for the zoo guests crowded around him. The lion eventually gets ahold of the man’s finger and does not let go. After some struggle, the man collapses, and the crowd realizes this is not part of the show. When the man finally breaks free from the lion, it comes at great expense as the lion degloves his right ring finger.
NEPA promised to visit the facility and provide an update on their investigation when they had more information to release. They delivered on their promise on Wednesday when they announced that they had found several breaches of the environmental permit by the Jamaica Zoo. NEPA said that the violations mainly were failures to:
- Make sure any staff that will be handling animals are adequately trained
- Account for different species currently in possession of the zoo
- Submit a nutrition plan for the animals, as well as a welfare program
- Employ technical skill sets to help with zoo operations
Some of the immediate actions that the Jamaica Zoo must take have been laid out by Morjorn Wallock, the Director of the Legal and Enforcement Division for NEPA. “The company is required to engage competent technical skills to assist with the operations of the zoo; the installation of satisfactory animal enclosures for the welfare of the animals and submission of animal nutrition and welfare program, among others.”
The actions taken by NEPA are surely welcomed by animal rights activists worldwide, but especially by Pamela Lawson, who is the managing director of the Jamaica Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (JSPCA). Lawson has stated that this was not the first complaint or incident at the zoo and urged NEPA to take action after this latest incident. “This is not the first complaint or incident that NEPA has received about this zoo…by no means! Yet nothing appears to be done to correct [it]. I must urge NEPA to finally take some definitive action and with immediate effect,” Lawson said.
Thankfully Lawson’s wish for action from NEPA has finally come true. However, the question is whether or not the latest actions taken will genuinely change the Jamaica Zoo’s culture for good. If the zoo works to comply with the latest directives set out by NEPA, it will be permitted to reopen. Upon reopening, it will be crucial for NEPA to continue to monitor the zoo to make sure that they do not simply revert to old habits.
The video of the man harassing the lion and consequently losing part of his finger went viral last week, causing severe damage to Jamaica’s image. Many international news outlets picked up the story, and the story has drawn much attention. NEPA’s action in closing the zoo is likely due to the attention the incident drew. It is unfortunate that it took such a drastic event for the zoo to be required to account for its breaches against its permit to operate, but thankfully some good will come from the event.
It remains to be seen whether or not the closure of the Jamaica Zoo will have positive and lasting long-term effects, but it is at least a step in the right direction. Travelers interested in visiting a zoo in Jamaica can still visit the Hope Zoo in Kingston, which is much more reputable, and released their own statement condemning the treatment of the lion at the Jamaica Zoo.
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