(Photo NOT from Pata Zoo)
The man who has spent the past two decades tending to Thailand's first pair of gorillas, spoke exclusively to The Nation to help quiet the buzz on social networking websites that accused Bangkok's Pata Zoo of maltreating the 25 year old Bua Noi.
Suwan Netlak, 60, said he felt personally slighted by these accusations because he loved and took more care of Bua Noi than his own children.
"What maltreatment? We provide the gorilla with airconditioning, a fan, a television and meals plus food supplements. We are doing our best," he said.
The photograph depicting Bua Noi sitting rather gloomily in a small area that is doing the rounds was taken a long time ago, he said. She had been moved to a smaller cage because the carers were hosing down the glass walls of her dwelling. "They even said that the gorilla was crying when in fact this animal doesn't have tear glands," he added.
Suwan said he had been taking care of the ape and monkey section in the zoo since he was 31 years old. Initially, his plan was to leave in a few months, but said he couldn't get himself to quit because he had fallen for the monkey's adorable and intelligent characteristics. And then when the gorillas arrived, he was hooked.
"Unlike other monkeys, gorillas have to be provided with special treats like apples, grapes, carrots, bread, tomato, pineapples, watermelon and boiled eggs. Actually, they get very happy when they see me bringing in boiled eggs," Suwan said.
He recalled that he bottle fed Bua Noi when she was brought over as a baby, and spent hours playing with her and cleaning her cage. He said Bua Noi seemed to consider him a parent.
He also said that he regularly provided the older gorilla, Bua Na, with tea. Suwan believed tea would help keep the gorilla strong and healthy. However, when Bua Noi died at the age of 50, Suwan took it pretty badly. He says he still prays for the late primate.
Suwan's day at the zoo begins at 8am and he is there tending to the monkeys and apes until 5pm. Bua Noi is served her breakfast at 8.30am and lunch at 3pm. Her diet consists of two bunches of bananas, banana leaves, morning glory, frozen fruit and instant vitamin supplements, he said.
"Bua Noi is cheerful and likes playing with banana leaves. She laughs and walks happily towards her carers. If I buy grilled pork for lunch, I put some aside for her first," Suwan said.
"My mother underwent leg surgery last night, but I had to leave her to come and take care of the gorilla. I think we do our best for Bua Noi, but others don't understand," he said as he pulled out photographs taken of him with the gorilla and another with an orangutan from his wallet. He had no photographs of him with his own children.
If Bua Noi were moved to a new and bigger area, Suwan said.......
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