San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Animal protection

Death of Kivú the lion unleashes blame game

The body of Kivú, the last of Costa Rica’s living lions, is currently under forensic evaluation  to determine the exact cause of his death, but the Environment Ministry (MINAE) and Simón Bolívar Zoo are blaming each other for his passing last Friday.

Fundación Pro Zoológicos (FUNDAZOO), the administrator of the San José zoo where Kivú lived most of his 18 years, released a statement denying any responsibility for the lion’s death. The statement said Kivú never showed any symptoms of chronic kidney disease during examinations conducted at the zoo.

Zoo officials blamed MINAE and the Agriculture and Livestock Ministry for the deterioration of Kivú’s health. Taking the lion to ZooAve, a private refuge in Alajuela province, was the reason for his health problems, the statement said.

The document adds that “the quick death of the lion at ZooAve, following its forced relocation on Dec. 5, was the result of [MINAE and MAG’s] disregards of all warnings about the risks of moving him outside Simón Bolívar Zoo.”

It cites a Nov. 2 report from FUNDAZOO’s veterinarian Randall Arguedas that was submitted to both ministries at the time to prevent the relocation. Arguedas said that moving the lion to another location with different temperature, relative humidity and other environmental conditions than those in downtown San José could severely affect Kivú’s health.

The zoo’s statement says Kivú’s kidney problems were a result of conditions of his new enclosure at ZooAve, “built using metal roof sheets and lacking proper ventilation.” Those factors caused a temperature spike that required additional water intake, “but stress prevented him from drinking enough water and that likely led to a kidney failure.”

Following Kivú’s death, many people commented on the zoo’s Facebook profile, blaming zoo administrators for keeping the lion inside a metal cage during most of his life, and for disregarding orders to move him to a better home.

MINAE responds

MINAE officials on Tuesday responded with another news release saying that Kivú’s death “was a result of the chronic disease that started affecting him before his relocation.”

The lion stopped eating last week and a general check-up showed his chronic renal disease had worsened. Officials, however, stressed that the lion’s quality of life improved at his new and more spacious home.

The ministry’s statement describes how living conditions at the Simón Bolivar Zoo prevented the 18-year-old lion from engaging in natural behavior, and argues that zookeepers failed to follow recommendations to improve the lion’s diet by giving him not only meat but also bones, feathers, fur and innards to stimulate his instincts.

The response also noted that spending most of his life inside the 70-square-meter cage the zoo provided had a direct impact on Kivú’s life. It critized FUNDAZOO for failing to relocate the lion to a more appropriate home, “despite a public commitment issued upon his arrival in 1999 to take him and his sister Kariba to a refuge in Santa Ana.”

MINAE’s statement says the decision to relocate Kivú was based on the results of physical and laboratory tests that showed the chronic kidney disease.

“The decision was based on an in-depth analysis conducted by 10 feline experts, including international consultants,” the ministry said.

Ban on zoos

Negative reactions and comments following the first news reports of Kivú’s deteriorating health also included requests for the closure and ban of all zoos in Costa Rica.

Rafael Ortiz Fábrega, a legislator representing the Social Christian Unity Party, filed a draft bill last week asking for amendments to the country’s Wildlife Law to ban zoos. Solís’ plan states that Costa Rica should ban the opening of new zoos and calls for a five-year period “for the closure or transformation of all existing ones.”

Current zoos would be forced “to change their operation to follow that of sanctuaries, refuges or conservation centers,” Solís said. He also proposes a ban on the capture or import of animals for public exhibition purposes.

Solís says that the operation of the country’s zoos “is not appropriate for the 21st century, as captive animals face terrible suffering,” and added that zoos give Costa Rica a bad environmental image.

The Environment Ministry said that experts are currently working on various projects to improve the quality of life of captive animals. However, a proposal for closing or banning zoos is not currently under consideration at the Ministry.

In December, President Luis Guillermo Solís posted one of the last videos of Kivú at ZooAve.

Contact L. Arias at larias@ticotimes.net

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