News / South Africa / Protests

Reitumetse Mahope
3 minute read
25 Jul 2019
1:16 pm

Koala dies, animals neglected as chaotic Pretoria Zoo strike continues

Reitumetse Mahope

Willie's death may have been avoided if experienced staff, who are currently on strike, took proper care of him, says the National Trade Union Congress secretary.

Employees at the Pretoria Zoo are seen protesting outside the premises after disputes with their employer, 13 June 2019, Pretoria. Picture: Jacques Nelles

A koala bear has died and animals are not being fed properly because of a month-long strike by staff at the Pretoria Zoo, it has been alleged.

“While we have been on strike, a lot of things have gone wrong in the zoo,” said National Trade Union Congress secretary Frans Rasethe.

According to Rasethe, most of the staff have been on strike since June 12.

The strike came after staff were transferred from the National Research Foundation to the zoo.

“When we were transferred, the employer did not consider a lot of things such as salary discrepancies for better working conditions, medical aid, and other benefits,” said Rasethe.

He said while the management was dragging its feet in meeting employee demands, things were taking a turn for the worst at the zoo.

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Rasethe said the management had used interns to fill in for striking employees, but claimed that the inexperience of the interns was showing.

“There was an incident in which an inexperienced driver crashed into the elephant enclosure.

“This is a difficult job, and operations are suffering due to a lack of qualified employees.”

He said animals were not being fed or treated accordingly and claimed that this had led to the death of a koala last Saturday.

“We lost Willie the koala, who could have lived longer if we, the experienced people, were there to take care of him.”

He said the koala was “special”.

“The parents are from Australia; however, the animal was bred in Africa for the first time,” he said.

“Landscape, cleaners, finance people and actually the majority of staff, we are outside, which means inside the zoo is chaos.”

He said the non-striking workers were overburdened with work.

Zoo spokesperson Angeliné Schwan said Willie the koala died while under the care of veterinarians in the zoo hospital.

She said the death “was caused by a chronic liver condition, but we are still awaiting histopathology reports from our veterinary department”.

She said koalas in the wild had a life expectancy of 13 years, and Willie was 13-and-a-half years old.

“The males tend to live shorter lives.”

Rasethe said it was true that Willie was old, “but the absence of staff to care for him had played a role in the death”.

Schwan said the care of animals in the zoo was taken very seriously.

She said there was currently one conservator, one animal attendant and a student present in the koala section.

“Assistance is available from other sections when needs be.

“There is no link between the death of Willie and the strike. The welfare of our animals is of critical and ongoing importance to us.

“Our veterinarians do daily checks on all the animals to ensure that their welfare has not been compromised by the strike.”

Schwan also denied that the majority of the staff was on strike.

“The operations at the zoo are running smoothly at this time,” she said.

Rasethe said zoo management had tried to speak to them; however, “we could not reach an agreement”.

He said the pronouncement by the management that operations in the zoo were running smoothly was an insult to them, as it showed that the management did not care about them.

“We care about the animals in the zoo and we are not happy when the animals are suffering.”

He said management should acknowledge that the animals were suffering.

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