Australian Zoo Owner Saves Bali Zoo from Closure

By William J. Furney

The Bali Times

With staff reporter Rian Dewanto

SEMINYAK/SINGAPADU, Gianyar ~ A chance visit by an Australian zoo owner has saved Bali’s only zoo from imminent closure, as a bank and other creditors close in and demand immediate repayment of a colossal, longstanding debt, The Bali Times has learned.

During a trip to Bali Zoo in Singapadu, Gianyar Regency, last November, Tony Greenwood, owner of Peel Zoo in Western Australia, was concerned at the small size of the enclosures of obviously distressed animals such as the mighty and endangered Sumatran Tiger, lions, leopards and rare White Tiger and approached management to see how he could help, he told The Times during an interview at his hotel in Seminyak at the weekend.

It was only after a receptive management agreed to his assistance to help the animals, he said, that he discovered the perilous financial state the zoo was in.

“I found out they were in debt to the tune of AUS$500,000 (US$422,000) and I decided I had to do something to help the zoo get back on its feet,” he said.

Some $480,000 is owed to local Bank Pembangunan Daerah (Regional Development Bank), the rest to other creditors such as suppliers, he said, adding that repayments had stopped five years ago but that the bank, mindful of the role the zoo plays in the local economy – 75 people are employed by Bali Zoo – had been “understanding.”

Greenwood and zoo management including owner Anak Agung Gede Putra, a resident of Gianyar, famous as an area of silversmiths that also includes a business Agung runs – Singapadu Gallery – met with the bank and started the long process of working out a repayment deal.

After meetings with the bank last week, in which executives insisted on an immediate recommencement of repayments, of a monthly amount of $20,000, they accepted a plan under which the zoo could continue to operate under the management auspices of Greenwood, who has for decades helped set up zoos around Southeast Asia and the Pacific region.

“We told them the zoo could not afford to pay back $20,000 a month,” said Greenwood. “I told them they just didn’t have it, and during a meeting today (Saturday), we negotiated that figure,” which was expected to be lowered to a more affordable $5,000 per month that could start to be paid from the end of this week.

In the meantime, Greenwood, 43, a father of two, whose wife and children were in Bali last week for a one-week holiday, has been busy making Bali Zoo more visitor friendly, including altering the menu at the zoo’s scenic café.

“By the time foreign tourists come to the zoo, they are sick of nasi goreng (fried rice), so we added bacon and eggs – foreigners love bacon and eggs – and that’s been a bit hit and more and more people are now dining at the café,” he said.

More importantly, for the zoo’s residents, their homes are being enlarged.

For the Sumatran Tigers, their enclosure has been quadrupled; the leopards’ cage has tripled in size; the lions have seen a doubling in size of their cage; and the White Tigers’ space has been “enriched” with trees and other items to make it more livable.

In addition, the living area of the orangutans – imperiled creatures who only live in dwindling Indonesian and Malaysian rainforests and whose alpha male at Bali Zoo is given to chucking fruit and other items at visitors – is to be made more natural from the current concrete surroundings, said Greenwood.

That’s the basis of the plan, he says, to turn the “boutique zoo,” as he calls it, into an open-plan area more livable-in by its residents and more accessible to visitors.

A shallow pool housing giant crocodiles is being made larger, he says, and night programs and other incentives are being planned to lure visitors.

Greenwood, who arrived in Bali on his latest trip a month ago and left for Australia on Monday this week, says this is a long-term project he will be involved with, to ensure the zoo gets back on his feet. In his absence, “staff on the ground in Bali are working on the zoo,” he said.

Of particular importance, said Greenwood, is sponsorship worth $12,000 from e-Travel Blackboard, an Australian travel-industry newsletter, pointing to the urgent need to properly market the zoo, particularly with advertising.

For that is the crux of Bali Zoo’s woes – not enough experience in marketing or wider management, said Greenwood.

“They do not know what they are doing. They have built a monster – if they’re not careful it will eat them. It’s like they’ve built a car and don’t know how to drive it,” he said.

Greenwood sees the zoo – which was built in 2002, sits on 4.2 hectares of land near Ubud and is home to some 350 animals of 65 species – as having significant potential, a firm asset for Bali’s rising tourism industry.

So far the Australian has poured about $10,000 of his own money into Bali Zoo, he said, adding that he expects to be soon back in Bali.

“It’s like a baby – you just can’t leave it,” he said.

“We are doing our best to bring the attention of Bali being a safe place to return to, as well as Bali Zoo and other attractions in Bali being great places of interest to take the whole family.”

The zoo’s marketing manager, Putu Setiawan, said during low season, staff salaries were frequently hard to meet.

“Our funds are less during low season and it’s hard to pay everyone, but we’ve been able to, and no one has gone without their salary,” he told The Times.

For owner Agung, a former civil servant, it was his passion for animals that drove him to open the zoo, but now as he struggles under a mountain of debt, he says Greenwood is nothing short of a savior.

“Tony brings a lot of expertise to the zoo. When I started it, we didn’t really have the proper knowledge to run it; so we are so grateful for his help now.

“Before, we were learning things as we were going along, mostly from books, and not really running the zoo the way we should have been,” he told The Times.

Agung said he had approached the local government for funding, or to take over the operation of the zoo, but had not received a reply.

Greenwood says zoos are not only a place to see exotic animals but also serve as a fundamentally important breeding ground, especially for endangered species. Public education of animals is foremost in his mind with the Bali Zoo project, he said.

Was it fate that brought him to the zoo last November as it was on the verge of closing?

“If you believe in destiny, God picked me up and dropped me in wet concrete before it set – I was sent here to help Agung,” he said.

Visitors to the zoo last weekend, meanwhile, were impressed with the facility.

Ketut Darma, a handicraft maker from Tampak Siring in Central Bali was visiting with his two young children, and said it was more enjoyable than the nearby Bali Bird Park.

“The zoo is good. Compared to the bird park, it’s easier here, because you just buy one ticket and you can see everything, whereas at the bird park you have to keep buying different tickets. It’s a shame if the zoo has to close, since it’s the only zoo in Bali. We’d lose a vital tourist attraction,” he told The Times.

Real-estate agent Susan Brookes, from Perth, agreed.

“You can get up close to the animals and take good photographs … it will be very upsetting if the zoo closes.”

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