Suffering in Captivity
The recent concern over the health status of an Orangutan named Binny at Nandankanan Zoo in Orissa has sharply brought into focus the plight of animals in zoos.
Binny, a hybrid Sumatran X Bornean Orangutan
Binny, a hybrid Sumatran X Bornean Orangutan, was sent to Peshwe Park Zoo in Pune on 8th November, 1985 and was transferred to Nandankanan, near Bhubaneshwar in Orissa on 20 November 2003. She was sent to India from Australia at a time when many zoos in so-called developed countries did not want to house hybrid Orangutans after their taxonomy was split into Sumatran and Bornean species. Today, advances in biological studies indicate that any discrimination of animals based on genetic makeup is not only unscientific but extremely immoral. Binny’s plight highlights how zoos in the so-called developed countries have causally dumped their animals like disposable, soda water bottles to be used and thrown away at their whims and fancies.
The treatment of hybrid animals
The treatment of hybrid animals and surplus animals lie at the core of the zoo debate. The health problems faced by Binny in Nandanakanan also send pointers to the status of all zoo animals in general that are held in captivity for ostensible conservation, education and recreation reasons.
Can zoos perform a role in conservation and education as they so feverishly emphasize?
Yes, they can, but the cases of zoos contributing to conservation and education are few and far between, across the world and also in India. My zoo visits across three continents have taught me that Western zoos are NOT better than Indian zoos, although there is an assumption that Indian zoos are worse than Western zoos. A significant concern is the continued and unchecked breeding of animals in zoos that lead to a multiplicity of problems like the one witnessed in Delhi Zoo recently, with Axis Deer dying in large numbers. Uncontrolled and irresponsible breeding of animals in zoos also leads to morally bankrupt and obnoxious actions like the culling of Marius, the two-year-old healthy giraffe who was shot dead and then fed to lions at Copenhagen Zoo in 2014. While the case of Marius made headlines, thousands of animals are killed on the sly in zoos across the world, including some of the most famous in the world.
Mixed Subspecies Origin
Zoos also regularly preach hatred for hybrid animals like tigers that are of mixed subspecies origin(Siberian X Sumatran or Siberian X Bengal) on dubious scientific grounds given that several biologists are revisiting the whole idea of the nature of species and subspecies. There is an absolute lack of control of zoos worldwide to adhere to minimum welfare standards and much more needs to be done by zoo associations to ensure this. Public consciousness is putting pressure on zoos, and the recent decision of Seaworld to stop the breeding of Orcas(Killer Whales) following the massive backlash they faced after the release of the film ‘Blackfish’ is a testimony to the power and role of the public in changing existing zoo attitudes.
A Great Victory For Both Conservation And Animal Welfare
. In India, after twenty years of investigative work and campaigning, Calcutta Snake Park was closed on 5th December 2015, a great victory for both conservation and animal welfare, considering that this zoo was keeping animals in highly unsatisfactory and substandard conditions and was indulging in illegal wildlife trade. Several organisations provided much-needed input to shut down this hellhole finally. Compassion and professional care catering to the physiological and behavioural needs of captive animals ought to be the primary areas of action that need to be looked into in Indian zoos. Enclosures have to be designed in a way that benefits the animals, and all members of the public told NOT to breach enclosure barriers or hurl stones at captive animals BEFORE they enter the zoo premises. This can be achieved by making it mandatory for all visitors to go through an orientation center after purchasing tickets to a zoo.
Should We Close Our Zoos?
BBC has recently produced an excellent programme on zoos entitled, ‘Should We Close Our Zoos?’ and it is time to raise this question in the public domain in India too. There will always be a multiplicity of opinion on zoos ranging from complete closure to reformation, and my personal view is that zoos will serve their purpose better by turning into rescue centres for abused wildlife and undertake breeding programmes only when there is a genuine possibility for reintroduction in the wild. In short, it is simply not on to stick animals in cages and leave them and then claim conservation and education benefits by creating pseudoscientific acronyms to impress the public.
One lives in the hope that Binny the Orangutan at Nandankanan Zoo gets the proper medical treatment she deserves.
Picture Credit: Orangutan Binny Odihsa SunTimes