Where need is most: every animal deserves a happier, healthier life

02 August 2017

They may not agree with how they’re kept – but incredible volunteers are refusing to turn their backs on animals that need them in Hanoi Zoo.

Over the past three months, animals at Hanoi Zoo have been better fed, happier and been able to exhibit more natural behaviours thanks to visiting expert Sarah Blake.

Sarah, previously of Yorkshire Wildlife Park, is the latest Animals Asia volunteer at the facility and has successfully made enrichment – such as toys and food to stimulate body and mind – more frequent and effective, particularly for previously bored bears, primates and big cats.

Sarah said:

"Providing enrichment for captive animals encourages natural behaviours and stimulation. However zoos in Asia often lack the resources and knowledge to provide them with suitable enrichment opportunities and that's where I come in.

“Enrichment is not only a fantastic tool to use with animals but with people too. The keepers have really enjoyed watching their animals interact with new enrichment and the zoo visitors love seeing an active happy animal."

Animals Asia Animal Welfare Director Dave Neale said:

“We are realistic and we know we can’t change the zoo overnight  the best we can do is help them improve gradually. Zoos do have the potential to be an educational tool for visitors and this is another area we’ve tried to make a difference.

“By working with the zoo we have built up trust and we now are close enough to not only improve animal care, we are also a trusted source of information and that means we an advocate for the animals here.

“As a result of that we have seen the elephants finally unchained as well as the closure of the zoo’s animal circus.”

The elephant off chain at Hanoi zoo

Over the last few months, Sarah has worked to provide affordable, practical solutions which will continue to improve the animals’ lives in the long-term.

Sarah explains:

"Another huge achievement has been inspiring the keepers to do more for their animals. We have seen keepers design brand new platform structures for their sun bears, build lots of new dynamic swings for their primates and even train some of their animals for easier management.

“It's been fantastic to see them get involved despite the extra work load and hot weather and generally be inspired to work towards better animal welfare for their charges in the zoo."

Sarah has been recording the improvements in a series of video blogs, which you can watch here:

Episode 1 | Episode 2 | Episode 3 | Episode 4

Animals Asia and fellow NGO Wild Welfare with the support of Yorkshire Wildlife Park, have worked with Hanoi Zoo since 2013 to improve welfare at the facility.

Hanoi zoo bear platform, April 2015

The vital work, which has changed animal lives, was made possible by public donations, a grant from Yorkshire Wildlife Park and the efforts of numerous  compassionate volunteers from around the world.

Over the years, the facility’s severe budget constraints have been a constant challenge which has required staff training at all levels.

Everyone at the zoo – from director to keepers, to vets and education staff – have received tailored training programmes to help them appreciate the importance of animal welfare.

This has resulted in more educated visitors who learn about animal welfare concepts, natural history and animal behaviour.

Dave Neale added:

“Hanoi Zoo has a variety of institutional problems which not only hold back its development but lead to animals living within unsatisfactory conditions which can cause them to suffer. Our work over the last four years has all been dedicated to one goal – the improvement of the lives of the animals there.

“When we started it was common to see visitors throwing food or other objects into the cages in a manner detrimental to their wellbeing.

“It doesn’t have to be this way and the hard work of volunteers like Sarah is helping turn that on its head so visitors come away with a greater appreciation of the animals they have seen and their natural behaviours.”