Activists bare naked truth about Manila Zoo

Posted at 04/28/2009 9:48 PM | Updated as of 04/29/2009 3:03 PM

In a bold campaign to help unhealthy animals at the Manila Zoo, four sexy animal rights group staffers willingly bared their skin on Tuesday to spread awareness about the ills of keeping animals in captivity.

Clad only in skimpy black bikinis and large, heart-shaped signs saying "Have a Heart, Boycott the Zoo", People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) volunteers Katrina Lugarkos, Leonika Recites, and Ashley Fruno stood in front of the zoo in the glaring noontime heat, giving out leaflets to passersby.

"We need to do what it takes to get people to pay attention, and if it means showing some skin, that's what we'll do. We think it's important to raise awareness on a very serious issue, and we thought using a fun, attention-grabbing way would be the best way to draw attention to the issue of these suffering animals in Manila Zoo," said Rochelle Regodon, PETA campaign manager.

The trick worked, Regodon said, because their office phones were ringing off the hook from people eager to get more information about the Manila Zoo campaign and help their cause.

Animal prisons

According to a statement by PETA Director Jason Baker, zoos are like prisons for animals, forcing them to live lonely and miserable lives.

"It's wrong to take animals from their homes and their families and put them in tiny, barren enclosures. Animals in zoos are denied everything that is natural and important to them, and there is no educational value in seeing sad and depressed animals suffering years of boredom in decrepit enclosures," Regodon explained.

Although there are no official reports of animal cruelty in zoos, she said simply visiting the Manila Zoo and all other zoos would be enough proof of how animals suffer and become unhealthy in captivity.

In fact, PETA's battle against the Manila Zoo has been a long struggle over the years, with little or no cooperation from the Manila government and zoo authorities.

Stop transfers

Prior to its saucy "Have a Heart" campaign, PETA had signed a petition, along with other pro-animal organizations, asking Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim not to transfer animals into the Manila Zoo. The animal rights group has also protested several of Lim's plans to expand the zoo or improve its upkeep.

"The basis is still that the animals need to be in the wild with their families in their natural habitat. It is better that the animals are returned to their homes," Regodon insisted.

She said that the 0.55 square kilometer zoo is barely enough to accommodate animals compared to the "vastness of jungles, forests, and oceans."

Baker added in a statement that animals' lack of companionship, space, exercise, and mental stimulation drive them to self-mutilation, mental disorders, and self-destructive behaviors.

Prior victories

PETA vowed to keep pressuring Lim and the local government to stop breeding animals in captivity and to stop the transfer of more animals in the zoos, intending to follow up on prior victories.

Regodon said that in 2008, PETA and allied organizations effectively halted plans to transfer giraffes to the Manila Zoo by writing letters and petitions to the Tanzanian government.

Although Manila Zoo authorities have yet to agree to a dialogue with PETA to negotiate for plans that would benefit animals, Regodon says the campaign against zoos in the Philippines has come a long way.

"We have tremendous support coming from animal welfare groups here. It's been a few years, and at least we're making people more aware of the issue," she said.

PETA, an animal rights group was established in 1980, reportedly operates under the principle that animals should not be eaten, worn, experimented on, or used for entertainment. It is the world's largest animal rights organization with more than 1.6 million members and supporters all over the globe. With a report from Jess Alcantara, ABS-CBN News