“A group of visitors threw stones at the head of a crocodile,” the city of Tunis announced in a Facebook post on March 1. “This caused internal haemorrhaging, which led to its death.” The Facebook post denounced the attack as “savage behaviour”. Several photos showing the bloody crocodile were included in the post.
The day after the incident, the Tunisan environmental minister, Riadh Mouakhar, visited the zoo and announced that he would be doubling the number of security agents. He also designated three units from the environmental police force to work full time in the park. In addition, Mouakhar announced that the zoo would be closing “temporarily” for maintenance work.
Tunisian authorities have been promising the creation of an environmental police force since 2016. It was initially supposed to launch in January 2017. But then the deadline was pushed back to March 2017.
Dozens of Tunisians came to the park last Sunday to demand an explanation, seemingly unconvinced by the minister's promises.
FRANCE 24 spoke to one of the activists from the group SOS Animaux Tunisie. Raoudha Mansour explained Tunisia’s laws against the mistreatment of animals:
Tunisian law punishes anyone who tortures animals with a prison sentence of 15 days and a fine of 4,500 Tunisian dinar. Unfortunately, the law is never applied.
Tunisians have been using social media to speak out against violence towards animals at the Belvedere zoo for months. In November 2016, activists came across an undated video showing children riding on the back of a rhinoceros as if they were at a rodeo.
One of the activists said in a YouTube video that she had talked to the zoo director about the video in November 2016. “We told them that this was unacceptable,” the activist said. “But Omar Naïfar, the director of the zoo, explained to us that he never had enough security agents in the park.”
Naïfar thinks that it’s the visitors who should be held responsible.
“There are more than 150 species in the zoo,” Naïfar told French magazine Paris Match after the crocodile incident. “We’re not going to put a guard in front of every cage. People need to be aware that animals have to be respected.”
On Facebook, one Tunisian journalist, Hager Ben Cheikh, claimed that a seal at the zoo had been killed in a similar way to the crocodile.
“Some visitors from the neighbourhoods around the zoo — people who aren’t very educated — come here looking for a thrill,” Cheikh said in her Facebook post. “Sometimes they don’t even pay the entry fee. They come here to wreak havoc and take out their frustrations on the poor animals. They come at the end of the day because there are fewer guards.”
In the past few years, Tunisians have also shared several videos that document the increase of litter in the zoo, especially plastic bottles and bags.