A photograph taken on Tuesday of Taoyuan City Government officials bowing to an East African baboon that was fatally shot the previous day provides an absurd snapshot to a sorry farce that led to an avoidable tragedy.
The photograph showed the officials in front of a plastic container draped in a purple cloth on which a bouquet of flowers had been placed. It was a perfect example of a death ritual performed for the benefit of the living, not the dead. The gesture was worthless for any other reason than to distract from personal blame and political guilt.
It contrasts with the scene in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, in which then-Taoyuan Department of Agriculture special committee member Lu Chi-ye (盧紀燁) emerged from the residential building in which the baboon had been trapped, carrying its corpse wrapped in a netting bag, and proceeded to pose for the media apparently without first assessing whether the animal was wounded, tranquilized or dead, and therefore unaware of the kind of treatment that it might require.
Then began the blame game, from which nobody involved is likely to emerge with their reputation unscathed. The finger was initially pointed at the man who fired the fatal shot, a hunter named Lin (林) whose presence nobody wants to take responsibility for. Lin said he had been hired by the Hsinchu County Government, which was concerned that the baboon could cross to its side of the county line. Hsinchu County Agricultural Department Deputy Director-General Fu Chi-mei (傅琦媺) said: “We are confident that we would not order Lin to act outside of Hsinchu jurisdiction.”
The Taoyuan City Government said that it had not instructed any hunters to go to the scene, adding that when Lin was first contacted, they had not discussed the use of a gun. It also said that when Lin entered the building, he was not accompanied by Taoyuan Department of Agriculture officials.
According to Lin’s account, his presence and his credentials were known. He said the baboon had become aggressive when shot at with three tranquilizer darts, all of which missed, and recalled that the order to shoot was given by somebody whom he had believed to be from the Taoyuan Department of Agriculture, but later discovered was a vet from the Leofoo Village Theme Park — a version of events that the theme park denies. Lin said he was then asked to leave by “a tall man from the department.”
The scene was a chaotic, unprofessional, uncoordinated mess, with too many people dispatched from different units. Piecing together various accounts, it seems that there was Lin, two groups of five to 10 individuals from the Taoyuan Department of Agriculture and other units, and a vet from the theme park, all in plain clothes, unclear as to other people’s identities or why they were there.
Did anyone issue the order to shoot, and if so, who? What series of orders or misunderstandings led to Lin appearing on the scene with a gun? Had he been promised a reward for shooting the animal? Did he know he was contravening the law before he fired, and did he think he had official authority to do so? Why was the order to shoot given when the baboon was already contained? What procedures were in place to ensure the animal received appropriate care after being shot, either with a tranquilizer or a lethal weapon? Presumably these official procedures would not have included gloating beside the stricken animal and posing for photographs.
Civic groups push for animal rights to be respected, but when local government officials display such disdain for these rights, they are truly fighting an uphill battle. Bowing to the slain animal’s corpse in a makeshift coffin laughably decorated with a facsimile of a ritual cloth does not cut it.
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