The story


On June 9, 2007, the Espace Zoologique of Saint-Martin-la-Plaine agreed to take care of a hippopotamus seized by the authorities, while waiting to find a place for it. Belonging to a traveling circus for 7 years, the hippo named Tonga has never been legalized and its owners do not benefit from any certificate of capacity. The animal is poorly cared for: a tooth pierced its upper lip without it ever receiving adequate care.
Three months later, the Brigitte Bardot Foundation raised the necessary funds and completed the administrative procedures for Tonga to be sent to Sanwild, a reserve in South Africa . Since then, the animal has found another of its kind, Aldo, and roams freely in the immense African reserve of 6,000 hectares, in the company of elephants, giraffes, buffaloes and many other species.


Following this mobilization, the Espace Zoologique of Saint-Martin-La-Plaine decided to become more committed to exotic animals seized or abandoned in France by creating the Tonga Terre d'Accueil association in 2008.

Since 1972, and within the limits of its capacities, the Zoological Space has continued to collect animals entrusted by the authorities but animal trafficking, particularly primates in the years 2000-2010, and the awareness of the population vis towards animals in circuses leads to the reflection of a solution. The creation of the Tonga Terre d'Accueil association marks the desire to go further in the possibilities of rescuing and welcoming wild animals.

Work to construct the buildings in Tonga began in 2009. The first buildings constructed allowed the animals to be accommodated, while the necessary care and examinations were carried out before placing them in other structures. The initial hope was to be able to return them quickly, however the reality turned out to be different and the animals spent more time than expected in the Tonga facilities. The following buildings have been adapted and have larger enclosures for the felines.

  • The association defined itself as a temporary reception structure
  • The increase in the number of reception places allows the authorities to have placement solutions after seizures
  • The goal of the shelter is then to find permanent placements for the animals.
  • Over time, buildings have been adapted for longer animal stays and have larger exteriors


The story of the zoo and the association

Rescue of Tonga

Vidéo on the Espace Zoologique and Tonga