Tunis zookeepers kill and cut up a zebu, in front of visitors

Employees at the Belvédère zoo in Tunis cut up a dead zebu in front of horrified visitors in this photo taken by our Observer, Mohamed Oussama, on January 3.
Employees at the Belvédère zoo in Tunis cut up a dead zebu in front of horrified visitors in this photo taken by our Observer, Mohamed Oussama, on January 3.

A horrified visitor to the Tunis zoo filmed as a group of zoo employees slit the throat of a zebu, then chopped it into pieces in its enclosure. The footage has since provoked outrage amongst Tunisians on social media. And while zoo management said it was just putting the zebu out of its suffering, neither the visitor who filmed the grisly scene nor a veterinarian interviewed by the Observers are buying it.

Mohamed Oussama, 26, was making his first-ever visit to the Tunis zoo, also known as the Jardin du Belvédère, on January 3. The visit was pleasant enough – until he reached the enclosure housing zebu and buffalo. There, he came upon a group of axe-wielding zoo employees hacking a zebu carcass into pieces. Shocked, Oussama took out his phone and filmed the gruesome scene.


Footage by our Observer Mohamed Oussama Mohamed Oussama.

Footage by our Observer Mohamed Oussama.

Oussama wasn’t mistaken; zoo employees had indeed killed a zebu in its enclosure, under the orders of management. While zoo director Mahmoud Laatiri admitted that it was an “awkward” situation that “visitors who had arrived at the start of opening hours” witnessed the scene, he also decried the “malicious” decision of our Observer to post his footage on social media.

"The employees didn’t do this in plain sight, they hid in order to carry out their task discreetly,” Laatiri claimed. “The person who took these photos had bad intentions. He was looking for trouble and took advantage of the audience on social media to create a buzz."

Photo by our Observer Mohamed Oussama.

"There was no tent or tarp to hide the scene from visitors”

However, our Observer, who arrived at the zoo around 10am, says that the employees made no attempt to hide what they were doing.

"I wasn’t the first visitor to the zoo that morning and I wasn’t the only one to come across that scene. There was also a family curious about why this group of men were gathered around a carcass. It’s true that the men were about 20 metres from us, but there was no tent or tarp to hide the scene from visitors. I was able to take photos and videos from two different angles. What shocked me the most was that they were doing this in front of all of the other animals in the enclosure."

Ending its suffering

So why was this zebu killed instead of being treated?

"This zebu was 20 years old,” said zoo director Laatiri. “He had traumatic pericarditis [Editor’s note: inflammation of the pericardium, the fibrous sac surrounding the heart], after he ingested a piece of iron, which pierced his stomach and reached the sac around his heart. He also had hypocalcaemia, a lack of calcium in his bones. The pericarditis couldn’t be treated. He was only going to live another two or three days at most, so we decided to end his suffering. And, because of a lack of equipment, it was easier to do it all on site and to give the meat to the lions.”

However, this decision seems questionable to Baligh Ben Soltana, a Tunisian resident in internal medicine at the Toulouse Veterinary School.

"Traumatic pericarditis can be fatal, but it isn’t from the outset.

The piece of metal ingested by the animal could have taken months or even years to travel to the stomach and then the pericardium. Before it reached this state, carers should have noticed a variety of symptoms in the animal: alarming weight loss, for example, and blood in his feces. In other words, even if it was true that the animal only had a few days to live and so they had to kill it. The question remains, why didn’t someone notice what state it was in earlier, when it was still possible to treat it?

There was clearly neglect going on, almost certainly because the zoo is short on funds. It’s clear that the zoo management can’t properly care for all its animals."

Belvédère Park does seem to be short on funds. Currently, there is only one vet on staff to care for all of the animals. And this isn’t the first time that the state of the animals there has made headlines. In March 2017, a crocodile was killed after visitors threw stones at it. A video posted several days later showed children climbing on the back of a rhinoceros. The zoo had supposedly turned a new page and, in October 2017, announced the acquisition of several new species and the birth of several baby animals. However, this new scandal seems likely to sully the already tarnished reputation of the zoo.