The lion slept without a care for the world as passersby stared. Kids leaned over the fences, gawking at the animal. All over the zoo, the animals patrolled their cages while people strolled by.
I was in Bannerghatta zoo in Bangalore, watching as crowds ambled past the enclosures. They would make all sorts of noises to elicit a response from the despondent creatures. Many would bang the cage, keen on seeing the animals move.
Seeing this made me introspect. Do zoos actually play a role in conservation, or are they merely a tourist attraction? What good can come out of keeping animals in cages?
Zoos originally began as places where royalty could house the wildlife that they collected. The oldest records of zoos were found in excavations at Hierakonpolis, Egypt, in 2009, from 3500 BCE. Now, they have spread all across the world, turning into a full-fledged business.
These animals are ambassadors for their wild counterparts. Their existence plays a vital role in teaching the public about the natural world. They play a keen part in gathering funds for conservation.
It was people like Gerald Durrel who began to include zoos in the conservation circle. They soon stopped having their animals showing tricks and transformed into a place where one could learn and experience the natural world for themselves.
Zoos present themselves as an ex-situ form of conservation outside of the natural world. It entails protecting a species or a group of species outside its natural habitat. (Read about it here)
Today, zoos have introduced breeding programs for endangered species in the hope to replenish their populations in the wild. Animals are bred in captivity in the hope of releasing them back into the wild. In some cases, animals that are extinct in the wild have a few remaining individuals living in zoos. (Read about it here)
Rare animals like the Pygmy Hog of (Read about their breeding programme here) or several vulture species have breeding programmes centred around them. (Read about it here) They aim to educate the masses on the lives of wild animals, providing first-hand information to them.
One critique of zoos is regarding the welfare of their animals. Many believe that animals should not be confined to a cage or enclosure.; it is their right to be wild. These people feel that they do not receive adequate treatment, such as good food and healthcare.
As I passed the enclosures, I observed animals pacing back and forth. Every so often, they would come up and brush against the fence. Some would sit at the end of the enclosures and nap throughout the day. Boredom eventually consumes them, erasing their wild spirits. The confines of their cages are a meagre comparison to the forests they once roamed.
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I sympathised with the animals, for I too had to face confinement once. I tested positive for Covid-19 and spent a week in solitary quarantine. This is a mere blink in comparison to their lives, but it showed me the mind-numbing nature of confinement. Staring at the same four walls distorts your perception of time. It injects you with the poison of lethargy. Suddenly, you see your level of enthusiasm helplessly fall before your eyes.
So how does one come to terms with the harsh nature of captivity? It all starts with perspective. It is disheartening to see animals behind metal bars, but it is reality. These animals are ambassadors for their wild counterparts. Their existence plays a vital role in teaching the public about the natural world. They play a keen part in gathering funds for conservation.
I am neither supporting nor opposing the existence of zoos. I am inconclusive on this ever-present debate. I merely am sharing some thoughts to add to the discussion around the subject.
A video that sums up the debate around the existence of zoos
A great read about the daring attempt to save the Baghdad Zoo during the Iraq War.
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