by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Internet Screenshot
THE SAGA OF a baboon spotted variously in the past few weeks in Pingjhen District in Taoyuan came to a dramatic end yesterday after the animal was tranquilized by authorities in the afternoon. Subsequently, however, the baboon was reported as having been discovered to have gunshot wounds.
Zoo officials claimed that the baboon was then rushed to the Leofoo Village Theme Park, but died shortly afterward. Perhaps knowing that public scrutiny was on them, photographs of officials bowing to the baboon’s body, with flowers, have been circulated online.
This proves an unexpected and tragic twist to the saga of the baboon–quickly nicknamed 狒狒 in media and online discourse. Over the past eighteen days, sightings of the baboon were widely discussed online, in a humorous manner.
As baboons are not native to Taiwan, the animal is thought to have escaped from its original owners. Though it was originally thought that the baboon might have escaped from the Leofoo Village Theme Park, the theme park itself denies that this was the case.
Animal escapes from zoos have been a recurring news item in past years in Taiwan. The Taipei Zoo has seen animal escapes including capybaras, clouded leopard cats, chimpanzees, anteaters, and even an incident in which a tiger briefly left its enclosure.
It is increasingly the case that establishments in Taiwan display exotic animals to attract visitors. So it is then that there are farms and parks with capybaras, alpacas, sika deer, and other animals for visitors to interact with. This sometimes leads to animal abuse cases, however, as with a 2020 case involving a raccoon abused in a laundromat cafe.
Internet meme about the baboon’s death. Photo credit: good.morning.my.dear.friend/Instagram
If the baboon was not from the Leofoo Village Theme Park, it is probable that the animal escaped from an individual that illegally imported the baboon to Taiwan. This points to a larger issue regarding the smuggling and trade of animals considered exotic in Taiwan.
The baboon may have been shot by an Indigenous hunter that assisted with tracking the baboon. The Indigenous hunter stated that he was ordered to fire by a zoo veterinarian after zoo workers claimed they were out of tranquilizer darts, as well as that he was requested as a hunter that specializes in removing invasive species by authorities to assist in tracking down the animal. The Taoyuan City Department of Agriculture stated that it had only taken one tranquilizer gun with them, while the Leofoo Village Theme Park declined to comment when asked if any of its staff carried guns during the capture.
But criticisms have been raised from Indigenous activists after the zoo pinned the blame on the hunter, stating that it did not order him to fire. According to the Northern Taiwan Indigenous Hunter Association, it was unlikely the hunter would have opened fire on the animal on his own without orders, as such requests to Indigenous hunters are commonplace from the government. The association consequently criticized government officials for pinning the blame on a hunter that volunteered his services to help track the baboon. There have also been criticisms of zoo officials for posing with the bleeding bamboo for photos, rather than immediately seeking medical aid for it, as they claimed they did.
So it is, then, that an apparently humorous Internet meme involving an escaped baboon touches on a host of issues including animal rights, Indigenous hunting rights, discrimination against Indigenous, and other issues. It is probable that controversy regarding the bamboo’s death will continue.