Wellington Scoop

Zoo makes “difficult … distressing” decision to kill four baboons

News from Wellington Zoo
Today the extremely difficult decision was made to euthanise the group of four male Hamadryas baboons at Wellington Zoo after their welfare was compromised after a breakdown in their social structure.

The breakdown of the baboon social structure has led to a critical risk situation for each of the four baboons with serious fighting causing injury and resulting in high levels of anxiety. We have an important duty of care to ensure that all animals we care for at the Zoo experience positive welfare and unfortunately for these baboons this is no longer the case. When it comes to a decision like this we need to make a decision before the animals begin to suffer, in this case it is a matter of urgency.

This is not a decision that we have made lightly and it is very tough on all of us but particularly those who dedicate themselves to caring for our animals. However, after extensive international research, lengthy discussions with our animal care, animal science and veterinary teams and other animal welfare experts, we are certain this is the kindest and most humane action we can take. Baboons are a social primate and the current situation is untenable for these animals.

Wellington Zoo Animal Welfare Committee Member Dr Ngaio Beausoleil who is Co-Director of the Animal Welfare Science and Bioethics Centre and Associate Professor (Applied Ethology and Animal Welfare Science), School of Veterinary Science at Massey University said, ‘It is Wellington Zoo’s responsibility to have the knowledge and experience to do what is best for the animals in their care. In this case, as difficult as the decision was, this was the most humane decision for the animals.’

The baboons have been well cared for by our expert animal care team but there were no further interventions we could make for these baboons. Various options, like re-homing the baboons through the regional managed breeding programme, were explored but these were either not possible, or would not improve the welfare state of the baboons.

It’s an incredibly sad day for all of us at Wellington Zoo, and although it’s been a very distressing decision to make, our utmost regard for the animals’ welfare made this decision necessary. It is our ultimate responsibility to ensure our animals live good lives without suffering. Our Zoo team and our community loved the baboons and we will all miss them terribly.

Press Release – SAFE For Animals
The Four baboons who were euthanised at Wellington Zoo today again highlights the inherent cruelty of animal captivity for entertainment, according to SAFE. Habib, 14, Osiris, 7, Les, 17, and Rafiki, 15 were all put to death today, due to what Wellington Zoo calls was a breakdown in their social structure, which led to serious fighting amongst the animals.

SAFE CEO Debra Ashton says killing the animals was irresponsible and she questions the ability of Wellington Zoo to house their animals.

“Clearly the behavioural and habitat needs of the baboons were not being met at the Zoo, which goes to show the flaws of keeping animals in captivity,” says Ms Ashton. “Social structures suffer in enclosed environments and could be attributed to fighting and anxiety for animals. When these social systems break down and there is fighting, vulnerable animals are not in a position to be able to escape as they would in the wild,”

“My understanding is that the Zoo was making room for other animals to be brought in this year, so it is not clear why they couldn’t have been separated.”

Zoos around the world have been increasingly criticised for their treatment of animals and the living arrangements that they can provide, which are often inadequate.

“Wellington Zoo is responsible for the animals to live out their natural lives. Killing them should not have been an option,” adds Ms Ashton. “We believe all Zoos in New Zealand need to be phased out, by directing their resources and assets to support animals to the wild.


  1. anon, 24. February 2019, 10:52

    What caused a break down in their social structure? Baboons can live in groups 10 up to 200 and are very social. I bet the loss of part of their family will cause them more anxiety that sorting out the troubled social structure (which is normal) would’ve. Failing re-homing them, couldn’t they briefly isolate them in separate cages (next to each other) first and then regroup them.

  2. Anabel, 25. February 2019, 5:39

    I like SAFE’s philosophy. Zoos are archaic. Surely we have outgrown the need to collect and cage wild animals for daily viewing.

  3. Sekhmet Bast Ra, 25. February 2019, 13:39

    While we disagree with SAFE’s position on zoos in general, because zoos do valuable captive breeding work and Wellington Zoo counts amongst its assets a veterinary hospital which not only services the zoo animals but also services native wildlife, we certainly support SAFE’s query on Wellington Zoo’s ability when it comes to housing animals. We last visited the zoo around 2012 and there were a lot of baboons, at least 20 of them and we wonder what happened to reduce the population down to four males. Apes are a lot like us humans and if you have a bunch of males confined together with no female companionship, testosterone does tend to kick in in the form of male aggression. Ask any man who’s been to jail and they will agree on that point. I do not see why these guys could not placed in seperate temporary enclosures until a better solution was found, like maybe getting some female baboons in to keep them company. Our view is Wellington Zoo is not being entirely truthful when it comes to the four late baboons.

    There is also the matter of companion Cats killed in and around the zoo covered in this report from 2017. The somewhat ambiguous report states one of the Cats was found in an animal enclosure, yet later states the same Cat was found in a valley near Melrose Cres on the edge of the zoo. Wellington Zoo declined to release the body of the deceased, citing Ministry for Primary Industry regulations, yet when one of our colleagues discussed the matter with MPI staff, they stated there was no good reason why the body could not be released to the grieving family. Feline Rights has documentation covering all of this.

    If one takes a look through reserve land surrounding the zoo, one will note signage which states the zoo is engaged in trapping alleged ‘pests’ in these areas which we assume is part and parcel of WCC’s larger ‘native biodiversity’ incentive. Put two and two together and go figure what really happened to the Cats who died before their time in the Melrose area.

  4. anon, 26. February 2019, 7:33

    SBR It’s actually the lack of space and the reduction of it causing social breakdown. There are many adult males in a congress (community). Baboons are fine in the wild as they have space and can retreat.