Wellington Zoo under scrutiny

Wellington Zoo continues to come under scrutiny. Firstly it was from SAFE condemning the zoo's foolish rent-a-cheetah programme. Then came the whistle-blowing staff alleging unprovoked animal attacks, animal abuse and poor management. Finally, the zoo's cheetah programme was further criticised by two international zoo experts. SAFE has managed to attract considerable media attention as a result, putting the zoo further under the spotlight.

The zoo's rent-a-cheetah programme allows the cheetahs to be released and attend public events such as store openings and private functions. The zoo charges around $2,500 per visit and claims that the visits have educational and conservation values. "If the zoo truly believed that these off-site visits would enhance the conservation of species, they would do it for free," says SAFE campaign director Hans Kriek.

SAFE accused the zoo of being irresponsible and said the use of cheetahs as objects of entertainment was deplorable. "SAFE believes that Wellington Zoo is acting unethically. Visits like this put the animals and the public at risk as the animals are taken into situations where unpredictable things can happen. Should a cheetah get frightened, no handler would be able to control it, people could get bitten and the animal could escape and end up being shot," says Hans.

SAFE was delighted to have its concerns validated from within the international zoo community. In an article published in the Dutch newspaper Friesch Dagblad, Wijbren Landman and Bas Lukkenaar, spokesmen for two leading zoos in Holland, said the programme showed little respect for the animals and was not educational.

"We are completely opposed. We would never do something like that. Actions like this demand that the animals are very tame and we strive to keep them as wild as possible. We don't allow keepers between the animals, let alone strangers. It's not educational either," says Mr Landman.