Shoushan Zoo in Kaohsiung has made national news at least four times this year, all in a negative light.
In February, a chimpanzee bit off part of a three-year-old boy's finger while his father was holding him close to the animal. Two month's later, the zoo shocked the nation -- and subsequently drew international attention -- when a veterinarian had his forearm bitten off by a crocodile while he was trying to treat the sick animal. It was later learned that the vet mistakenly shot the crocodile with antibiotic darts instead of tranquilizers.
But, that wasn't the end of the tale.
After learning the zoo identified the animal as a Nile crocodile during media coverage, a crocodile breeder in Tainan said the zoo's identification of the animal was incorrect.
After a report on Pingtung Technology University's Wild Animal Information Web site, the zoo admitted its mistake by confirming the animal was in fact a salt-water crocodile.
Later that month, the zoo admitted that an elephant named Ali was indeed a female after previously telling the public it was a male.
Ali had been married to a female elephant named Annie in a wedding ceremony staged by the zoo five years ago. The zoo argued that the wedding was held to attract tourists.
Earlier this week, the zoo admitted it did not realize a pair of its newly-arriving raccoons had escaped in March until workers discovered a huge hole next to the racoon enclosure.
These incidents, at times humorous, expose an inconvenient truth about the government-run zoo which the Kaohsiung City government must deal with.
Founded in 1978 in Kaohsiung's Sitzyywan (西子灣), the zoo was relocated to its current location at Shoushan (
Visits to the Shoushan Zoo may be one of the most common childhood memories shared by the majority of Kaohsiung residents.
The Shoushan Zoo, regarded as the major public zoo in southern Taiwan, did not, however, prosper like its counterpart in Taipei during the past three decades.
Jason Hung (洪富峰), director of Kaohsiung City's Economic Affairs Bureau, the authorities overseeing the zoo, said problems have arisen from a lack of manpower and a funding shortage.
The budget Shoushan Zoo receives every year is disproportionate to that received by Taipei City's Muzha Zoo annually.
Records from the Kaohsiung City Council in 2005 show that the Shoushan Zoo's budget that year was about NT$14 million (US$426,000) while the Muzha Zoo received NT$440 million from the Taipei City Council.
According to Hung, Shoushan Zoo is greatly understaffed, with only 33 zoo staffers, three of whom are veterinarians, who are responsible for taking care of 500 to 600 animals of 80 species.
Kurtis Pei (裴家騏), a professor at the Institute of Wildlife Conservation of National Pingtung University of Science and Technology, said the fundamental problem with the zoo is the rationale behind its management.
Over the past three decades, the city government has run the zoo as like "show business," focusing on a variety of animals and presenting them to the public in a "window display" model, Pei said.
Using this rationale, the zoo has neither cultivated professional zoo staffers nor attended to the welfare of its animals, he said.
"Zoos such as the San Diego Zoo and the Bronx Zoo in New York have no longer see building an animal collection as one of their objectives," Pei said. "Zoos now emphasize biological variety, while conserving animal genes and promoting the public's awareness of preserving those beings."