Try this mental exercise: Close your eyes and try to imagine what it would be like to be imprisoned for no fault of yours; except maybe the way you look. Sounds a lot like slavery, doesn’t it? What if we tell you that we are describing the predicament of a zoo animal?
There is a beautiful proverb from Bengal that translates to something like, “Like a child at its mother’s bosom, there is nothing as beautiful as a wild beast in the wild.”
Every creature belongs to a certain habitat or space. That’s the way Mother Nature/God/Evolution meant it to be, take your pick. Just like no human being has the right to encroach upon the property of his fellow human being, should they be allowed to encroach on the space of animals, who mind you are far weaker than them in perspective: after all, they might have claws, they might even be big and fearsome but they don’t carry guns.
And it is this same encroachment of space that has given rise to disturbing events all over the planet.
In India, there are repeated incidents of tigers attacking villagers in the Sundarbans mangrove forests. Elephants have been known to ravage tea gardens too, because the gardens were created in spaces previously inhabited by them.
Most importantly, one has to understand that animals are silent sufferers. If you don’t believe that, visit a zoo and look at their eyes. They deserve their freedom.
Recently there was the incident at Cincinnati zoo, where the silverback male, Harambe (named after the Rita Marley song) was killed by a single gunshot. Now, it is debatable if the child who fell into his enclosure was actually in harm, but one has to understand that a gorilla, in the prime of his life was killed just a day after he turned seventeen; the reason, simply we didn’t understand if it would hurt the child.
A language barrier was all it took.
Even more recently, a video has become viral on social media. It shows a little girl, kissing the glass of a lion enclosure with the lion awfully near.
The lion, to whom visitors are the only form of stimulation, stares at her, trying to understand her motive. The message is lost on him.
He lashes out violently, scratching up the glass wall with both paws up, standing on his hind legs, in full glory. The scene is pretty daunting.
Now it is understandable only when we realize that the poor beast suffered from what is now called zoochosis: Symptoms of which include rocking back and forth, hitting themselves and showing outward signs of depression.
Humans have language to express distress. And even then we do lash out at people we don’t want to harm at all.
Now imagine a majestic lion facing 24×7 imprisonment and stares and giggles from a constant stream of strangers. And again, they can’t speak. That’s when the lashing out becomes less surprising.
There are three major arguments for zoos: first, that most zoo animals are not as rare and do not require much conservation. Now this is the cruelest things to say; it’s like saying you want to kill/imprison people because there are too many of them.
Secondly, that tigers, lion, elephants etc. are crowd-pleasers and that because of their need for conservation, they are kept in enclosures that mimic their habitats. Now this again is like saying, you want to keep someone under house arrest, in a house that is like theirs in appearance.
And third, we’ll quote Guy Mountford, who explained twenty years ago why zoos were useless when it came to conservation efforts: “It has become customary, in recent years, for zoos and safari parks to respond to the growing public interest in conservation by claiming that by keeping endangered animals such as tiger in captivity they are ensuring the survival of the species…..such talk shows an astonishing ignorance of the freeborn tiger […]Not having been taught from birth to maturity the skills of hunting, such tigers would either die of starvation, be killed by the first wild tiger they met, or be obliged to take very easy prey such as domestic animals and humans and would, therefore, be quickly shot. Moreover; although zoo-bred tigers are usually well cared for, they are deprived of everything they need and enjoy in the wild except plentiful food. They may be healthy and contented in captivity, but inbreeding and the lack of mental and physical stimulus result in progressive cerebral degeneration which would make it almost impossible for them to adapt to the hazards of life in the jungle.”
This is something that calls out to our basic humanity.
What are your opinions?
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