By MARK LORENZANA
The Chapultepec Zoo, located in Chapultepec Park, Mexico City, is the oldest and best-known wildlife park in the country. It is also home to the only reproductive colony in the world of teporingos, also known as zacatuches or volcano rabbits, which are an endemic and highly endangered species. However, the capital government has allegedly collected millions of pesos in insurance for the death of these captive teporingos.
A personal investigation by Twitter user @YoAmoLaCiencia began to circulate and gained traction on social media, in which the author denounced the Mexico City government for allegedly collecting almost 6 million pesos in insurance policies for the mass deaths of teporingos in Chapultepec.
According to the investigation derived from a request by the Twitter user for information addressed to the Transparency Unit of the Mexico City Secretariat of the Environment (Sedema), it was revealed that in 2012, Chapultepec Zoo authorities reported the deaths of 420 specimens of teporingo, charging for each one different figures, between 4,300 and 4,721 pesos. In total, the capital government collected almost 2 million pesos that year.
A year later, in 2013, the deaths of 380 volcano rabbits were reported, which was equivalent to 380 policies collected. And then, in 2014, there were 130 teporingo deaths, which was followed by 125 in 2015 — all paid for by insurers.
According to the investigation, the rate of teporingo deaths, curiously, began to taper off after the scandal over the death of Chapultepec Zoo’s famed Bantu the gorilla, which culminated in the dismissal of Arturo Rivera, director of Mexico City’s Zoos and Wildlife, during the term of Mexico City Governor Miguel Ángel Mancera.
Bantu died in 2016, at the age of 25, after going into cardiac arrest when he was sedated in order to be moved to another zoo to try to mate him with another gorilla. An endangered African western lowland gorilla, Bantu was born in captivity in Chapultepec Zoo, and was one of its star attractions. According to official reports, Bantu allegedly died of cardiorespiratory arrest during the transfer, but various sources have pointed out that he suffered from an overdose of anesthetics.
After Bantu’s death, the number of teporingo deaths dropped, going from more than 120 in 2015 to 57 in 2026, and the sum continued to fall during the last two years of the Mancera administration — 46 teporingo deaths were reported in 2017, and 40 in 2018.
The investigation pointed out that, despite the fact that the zoo has a reproductive colony of volcano rabbits, the number of deaths since 2012 — reaching more than 1,000 specimens — is an alarming figure, as the teporingo is an endangered species whose status in the wild is unknown.
Meanwhile, it is alleged that the money obtained from the policies for the teporingo deaths — as with the death of Bantu the gorilla — has not been accounted for. According to the investigation, the person in charge of Mexico City’s Sedema during the Mancera government was Tanya Müller García, alleged cousin of Beatriz Gutiérrez Müller, wife of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO).