by V Gunasekera
A zoo, however large or open remains a PRISON to the unfortunate dumb animals trapped within it.
Today, when there is an acute awareness of animal rights, one realises that to keep a living animal confined for the rest of its life is morally wrong. The pity is that the poor creature so imprisoned is not even guilty of any crime.
Zoological gardens, the world over, were designed as an exciting concept, nearly 200 years ago. This was the time that the “western man” was able to travel safely to exotic lands far from his home, and bring back unusual animals for public viewing. He was insensitive to the feelings of the animals captured and confined, but only thought of the money he could earn by displaying rare and exotic specimens of life. It is relevant to note that he did not even care for the feelings of human oddities such as midgets, water-heads and deformed people and for monetary gains, displayed them in traveling circuses and fairs.
Whatever the size of the zoo, or however cleverly designed in its open-air concept, it is only the human visitor who is fooled by the so-called freedom allowed to the animals. Rest assured that the “prisoners” know that they are confined!
When wild animals are forced to live in areas incomparably small (as a zoo is) to the vast open spaces of their natural habitat, it is common knowledge that they build up anxiety. That is why all animals confined in a zoo, pace up and down endlessly, or sit and pant, looking absolutely worn out with boredom and tension. Huge animals such as elephants are tethered, and forced to stand for hours with chains around their ankles, which cause painful abscesses. An elephant in the wilds, walk for miles, at least 12 hours everyday! His lifespan is around 75 years. Just imagine the woeful state of an elephant in the zoo.
Even fish, reptiles, birds, butterflies and all other animals of lower intelligence than mammals, find it very unpleasant to LIVE FOREVER IN THE ARTIFICIAL AND CONFINED ENVIRONMENT OF A ZOO. Restricting the movements of a living being for the rest of its life, is TORTURE beyond compare.
Their natural instincts of eating, playing, mating and sleeping are so thoroughly inhibited in the zoo, that none of these activities have any significance in their life.
Let’s not forget that man is the natural enemy of all wild animals. Fear of man is built into their psyche. Imagine then, how nerve wracking it must be for the poor confined animal, on a daily basis to put up with the nearness of the visitors to the zoo! Added to this, most visitors display great insensitivity and indulge in idiotic behaviour, jeering and teasing these innocent animals, further adding to their woes.
We in this country are heirs to the compassionate philosophy of the Buddha, and need not blindly carry out this uncivilized practice of “life imprisonment” for animals, just because they happen to be unusual or foreign. A zoo is an alien (western) cultural idea to us. By phasing out and shutting down our zoo, we can showcase our culture of compassion for animals, to the whole world.
With the unbelievable advances made in technology, we can easily design and maintain a virtual reality cinema and park, to replace our zoological Gardens.
To achieve this end, very briefly are the following suggestions:
As many as possible, animals in the zoo should be returned to their natural habitat both here and abroad. The rest should be looked after till their death, somewhere in the premises, away from the eyes of visitors.
The zoological gardens could be maintained as a park, artistically landscaped, to make it a pleasant place for the public to pass the time. To foster a knowledge of the animal world, this park could have a couple of cinemas-in-the round, with wide screens and stereo sound, to show excellent documentaries of the various animals living in their natural habitat … rather like what is aired on the Discovery Channel, Animal World, Nat Geo and similar high class programmes.
In this electronic age of VIRTUAL REALITY, sounds and visuals could be deftly handled to suggest to the viewer that he is actually with the animals in their natural surroundings.
For a nominal fee, pamphlets on the life cycle of the various animals can be made available, for the education of the visitor.
We are a 3rd world country without many marketable resources. But we do possess CONCEPTS based on compassion., We are thus culturally advanced. We must market the idea that in a civilized society, animals should be protected from torture, and not cruelly imprisoned for life in a zoo.
Closing the zoo and setting up a Virtual Reality Park will impress upon visitors to Sri Lanka, our ethical behaviour towards innocent and defenseless wild animals.
They will realize that we are world leaders in a very admirable area; that of upholding the highest tenants of Animal Rights.