Bua Noi’s Heartbreaking Tale: The World’s Saddest Gorilla, Trapped in a Zoo with No Hope of Freedom

Bua Noi was brought to Bangkok’s Pata Zoo from Germany when she was only one year old. Little did she know that she would be spending her entire life in captivity. Now, her owner has refused to release her for less than Rs 6.4 crore

Bua Noi came to the Pata Zoo when she was only one year old. Wikimedia Commons

Bua Noi, a gorilla who lives in Thailand’s Pata Zoo, might never get a taste of freedom now.

Animal rights activists and authorities in Thailand have lost the battle to rescue Bua Noi, who has been branded as the “world’s saddest gorilla” after its owner refused to sell the animal for less than $780,000 (Rs 6.4 crore).

Since 2015, the Thai government, the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)  as well as pop singer Cher have urged Noi’s keeper to release her to ensure that the animal dies peacefully around other gorillas.

Let’s take a closer look at the life of Bua Noi.

The story of Bua Noi

Bua Noi, a name that means ‘Little Lotus’, was brought to the Pata Zoo at the tender age of one when her owner bought her for 3 million baht (Rs 65 lakh) from Germany.

Since then, the gorilla has been confined in an enclosure in a rooftop zoo in Pata Pinklao Department Store. According to a report by Bangkok Post, Noi lost her mate over a decade ago and the only companions she has now are the veterinarians and other animals like orangutans, birds, langurs, flamingos and sheep.

Bua Noi’s plight and her living conditions only came to light in 2015. Wikimedia Commons

Although the gorilla isn’t the only animal living in the zoo, she might be the saddest one of all. Some observers have even seen tears in her eyes as she looks out from her enclosure through a plastic screen that separates her from the tourists, according to The Sun.

Life on the 7th floor in an enclosure made of bars isn’t exciting at all. Bua Noi often kills time by wallowing on the floor, watching television or walking inside her cage to greet visitors. The Bangkok Post report also mentions her diet which includes two large meals made of bananas, oranges, guava, boiled corn, red grapes, apples and milk.

Normally, a healthy gorilla has a lifespan of 35 to 40 years and Bua Noi is over 30.

About Pata Zoo

According to Free the Apes, Pata Zoo was opened in 1983 by a businessman named Vinai Sermsirimongkol who owned the seven-story high Pata Pinklao Department Store at the time. The building is located on the west side of the Chaophraya River in Thailand’s capital Bangkok.

Vinai later converted the top two floors of the building into a zoo which held reptiles and amphibians on the sixth floor and the seventh floor was home to mammals like tigers, bears and a male gorilla who was named ‘King Kong’ by Vinai. The mammals were kept in cages.

According to a 2010 report by The Guardian, King Kong’s 15 x 10 metres concrete enclosure had no trees, just a tire and a few ropes hanging from the ceiling to keep the gorilla entertained.

Director of the Wildlife Friends Foundation of Thailand, Edwin Wiek wanted the zoo closed and told the news outlet, “Basically, it is an animal prison on top of a shopping mall. The space is too small, the animals have very little room, there is very little sunlight, the enclosures are dirty, they smell bad, and people are coming past all day, getting far too close to the animals, which makes the animals extremely stressed. In 200 steps you can see 50 different species. Most people know that this is not an acceptable way to keep animals. It is a hell for animals.”

The gorilla has been confined in an enclosure in a rooftop zoo in Pata Pinklao Department Store. Wikimedia Commons

While PETA has described Pata Zoo as “one of the worst zoos in the world”. According to PETA Asia’s website, “All the animals at this indoor zoo are suffering—denied sunshine, fresh air, and opportunities to exercise or to engage in any of the types of behavior that give their lives meaning. Social animals like gorillas can only thrive in the company of their same-species families, but at the Pata Zoo, they’re denied this fundamental need—for decades, in Bua Noi’s case.”

The zoo was once ordered to pull its shutters in 2015 by officials of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation over lack of documentation but was eventually re-opened later.

What are animal rights activists saying?

Bua Noi’s plight and her living conditions only came to light in 2015. This is when animal rights activists signed a petition which called for Noi’s release and the zoo’s closure.

The petition was organised by Sinjira Apaitan who said, “I don’t think animals should be locked up in such unnatural habitats. I hope to help all other animals being held captive in this high-rise zoo as well.”

On the owner’s demand of not going a penny below $780,000 for releasing Bua Noi, the secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources Thanetpol Thanaboonyawat said that the ministry has been organising charity fund-raising events, but was unable to raise enough money to meet the owner’s final ask.

“We have held activities in the past campaigning for Bua Noi’s release and to raise funds. We collected donations from Bua Noi’s supporters. But the problem is that the owner refuses to sell Bua Noi. When he does agree to sell her, the price is too high,” Thanaboonyawat told ViralPress.

Thanaboonyawat further said that since Bua Noi is considered private property, the ministry can’t forcefully remove her from the zoo. He said, “The owner bought Bua Noi before laws were introduced to prevent the trade and ownership of endangered animals and wild animals.”

Jason Baker, PETA Asia’s Senior Vice President said that the living conditions of Bua Noi are “horrifying and cruel”. He added that the animal is suffering “extreme psychological distress.”

“This shabby facility is internationally condemned as one of the worst zoos in the world. I urge everyone to keep the pressure on Pata Zoo and to demand that it let PETA help retire these animals to reputable sanctuaries that would meet their physical and mental needs,” he said.

What are zoo authorities saying?

Pata Zoo has completely denied the allegations made by the ministry and activists.

The department store claims that Bua Noi’s freedom would be detrimental to her health as she wouldn’t be able to adjust to a new home now after all these years.

According to a report by the Thai Examiner, Pata Zoo said that they are “taking good care of the animal and are aware that she could die at any time due to her old age.”

Zoo director Kanit Sermsirimongkol said that they take care of Bua Noi “like our daughter”.

Sermsirimongkol also said that there is “no problem” with the animals living in the rooftop zoo and that Bua Noi’s sad look is just her “natural facial expression.”

Furthermore, a spokesperson for the zoo even denied “any negotiations to sell Bua Noi with anyone or any agencies.”

“The current team of Pata Pinklao department store executives has been in charge of the management since Aug. 28, 2020. The aging gorilla has spent her life at the zoo and has been accustomed to this environment and a disease-free place for more than 30 years,” added the spokesperson.


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