2 April, 2020

Blog

Zoos: An Inhumane & Cruel Practice

By Thimal Gajadeera and Rumal Siriwardena

The recent fatal shooting of a gorilla at the Cincinnati zoo has taken the global media by storm. The 400lb adult male silverback was shot dead by zoo authorities, after a 3 year old boy accidently ended up in his enclosure. The child’s life was deemed to be in immediate danger, and the zoo authorities shot down Harambe in order to protect the child.

Unfortunately these are not isolated incidents, similar incidents have occurred worldwide when humans have entered into wildlife enclosures at zoos, with tragic consequences for the animals involved. Earlier this year, two of the three lions in the enclosure was shot dead at a zoo in Chile after a man jumped inside their enclosure.

Zoos: Why have them?

A relevant question that follows this incident, as well as the public outcry against the death of Harambe, is whether wild animals such as  gorillas belongs in a zoo. Creatures that are confined in zoos are robbed of the freedoms they would enjoy in a natural habitat – the freedom to roam and graze or hunt where they please, to select their territories, to select their mates etc. and endure severe mental stress as a result of their poor living conditions.

Many zoo animals, and this is particularly noticeable in the elephants at the Dehiwela zoo, exhibit stereotypical behaviours such as rocking and swaying from side to side. Several zoological experts agree that such stereotypical behaviours are a sign of mental stress. Wild creatures belong in the wild, and if it is absolutely essential for the public to observe these animals at their convenience, then they should be in legitimate sanctuaries or national parks which mirror their natural habitat with plenty of space to roam.

“Zoos rarely are able to provide natural requirements of megafauna (big animals) such as enough space, adequate nutrition, a habitat or enclosure which stimulates its natural behaviours and social interaction. These are challenging factors for zoo managers to ensure that these needs are satisfied. Once these necessities are missing chronic stress, poor health, boredom, low breeding performances result, classic example of this situation can be seen at the Dehiwala zoo” ” said Country Representative of Elemotion Foundation, Dr. Deepani Jayantha.

A visit to the Dehiwala zoo is a distressing experience for any wildlife enthusiast – from the two young lion cubs pacing back and forth in their tiny caged prison, to the elephants having their legs chained for hours at a time and forced to perform unnatural circus tricks daily for the crowd’s entertainment. One shudders to think what torture methods were used to train elephants to assume a headstand position.

“Zoos are today mostly run as a business and encourage masses to enjoy caged wildlife in the name of conservation. Public money should rather be spent on species in their natural habitats so that such eco- systems get enough funds for their management,” added Dr. Deepani Jayantha.

Zoos & promotion of cruelty to animals

“Zoos are a means of inflicting cruelty on animals,” said Convener of Animal Welfare Coalition of Sri Lanka, Attorney-at-Law, Vositha Wijenayake.

“If we look at the suffering that the animals go through being separated from their natural habitat, the depression they live in and the exploitation for human entertainment on a daily basis, it is impossible to question the existence of cruelty in this practice,” she added.

Sri Lanka is currently working on an Animal Welfare Bill, and the latest recommendations for constitutional reform also point out the need for enshrining the protection of animals in the Constitution.

Article 29 of the current Sri Lankan Constitution bestows a responsibility on the State to “protect, preserve and improve the environment for the benefit of the community”, but evidence provides that there is need for improving this. The Committee working on Constitutional Reform has recommended that a clause be included in the new Constitution enshrining justiciable protection for animals. This is with the objective of  preventing cruelty and promoting their welfare which they point out should be considered for inclusion in the Bill of Rights, and ensure humane and compassionate treatment of animals.

“The Animal Welfare Coalition of Sri Lanka welcomes these recommendations which will be instrumental in ensuring humane and compassionate treatment to animals. We hope that this will be a step towards addressing the issue of cruelty to animals in zoos as well, and also towards the speedy enactment of the Animal Welfare Bill of Sri Lanka,” said Ms. Wijenayake.

Alternative to Zoos?

There are alternatives to having zoos such as legitimate sanctuaries that provide lifetime care for rescued, injured or unwanted animals. Another option is a legitimate Wildlife Rehabilitation Centers which is similar to a sanctuary except the care may be on a temporary basis. Provided that visitors remain respectful of the wildlife, perhaps the best way to observe animals is in their natural habitat.

“For recreational purposes, sanctuaries where the species will have a lot of space with near natural habitats and social environment would be a reasonable alternative to zoos. The extra space will allow to  sustain non-exhibit wildlife and will in turn fulfil other ecosystem services too,” said Dr. Deepani Jayantha.

Wildlife Rehabilitation Centers can also help to provide an understanding to the visitors  about conservation of wildlife and would help to provide the visitors a constant reminder of the the need to conserve wildlife.

Watching animals in their natural habitats can be considered a far more viable alternative than watching them in enclosed spaces as it is far more beneficial to both the animals and humans who would want to know more about animals who live in their natural habitats.

Ventures such as Whale Watching in Mirissa provide the sort of the experience mentioned above and can be deemed as much more agreeable alternative to having animals such as whales in large enclosed spaces.

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Latest comments

  • 12
    0

    Why do we need a zoo when we have a Parliament?

    • 6
      1

      @Diogenes,
      Somewhat agree. I am an animal lover. It’s a disgrace to tarnish any animal, living creature or micro-organism by comparing any of them to our parliamentarians. In my view, our parliamentarians are not species but faeces. Even Charles Darwin, Carl Sagan or Stephen Hawking would have had difficulty in explaining their origin.

    • 4
      0

      Diogenes, zoo is where you go to see animals and birds and few other decent types of creatures. The Lankan parliament is where you go to see science experiments which have gone wrong.

  • 3
    0

    The neglect of the animals are not new to all Srilankans. It had been allowed by the progressive governments and
    The Zoo officials for Decades.
    Decades of neglect we all have seen and not done anything about it.
    World Wild life Society were not aware of this dire situation of the inmates of the Colombo Zoo. If known they would have brought charges against the officials.
    This kind of secrecy in every department lead to this hopeless situation.
    Good luck to Animal welfare coalition who is taking an interest to improve these voiceless animals welfare.

  • 3
    0

    An excellent article, with many valid points.

    There are very few zoos that manage to keep paramount the dignity and welfare of the animals that are held within. Dehiwela zoo is definitely NOT one of them, and the time is long overdue for considering the many viable alternatives that are available to us. Sri Lanka has the capability, and the chance, to show the world a thing or two in this respect.

    Koha’s have an old saying: cage us and you lose us, set us free and we will sing for you forever.

    We Koha’s are united in supporting you; Keep the pressure on.

    • 1
      0

      The Safari Park Alternative, is what ‘Wild Life Poor’ Countries like Singapore and Dubai resort to.

      Sri Lanka has to Preserve what we still have, and not destroy it by copying Overpopulated and Overdeveloped Countries, seen by our New Rich Politicians for the First time.

      Rajapakse was trying to build such a Safari Park and Airport, near one of our National Treasures. So destroying all the Natural, Indigenous Wild Life around the Yala National Park!

  • 3
    0

    Even Yala seems to have the right idea and the visitors love it. I have been to Dehiwela Zoo and at closing time, I noticed one or two elephants with all four of their legs chained up restraining them of lying down without breaking one or more of their legs. It must be torture to spend the night this way.

  • 2
    3

    A society confining cows, hens etc for its table use cannot fault confining animals for viewing pleasure.

    We all want to feel superior to others over something while we do the same thing without recognizing ourselves in the mirror we hold before others.

    • 4
      1

      Vegetarian – your analogy is ridiculous.

      You seem to think that vegetarians are somehow superior to those who are not, simply because you don’t consume non-veg food. And then you condone the ill-treatment of animals in zoos because some non-veg critics opine that ill-treatment of animals in zoos is not acceptable.

      Stop being such a moron and respond to the content of the article instead of pontificating to the rest of us who detest the inhuman treatment of animals – regardless of our diets.

      • 2
        1

        The Chef. Well said. Just because we eat them, does not mean we cannot treat them with dignity. These protein deficient vegetarians should come off their high horse and recognise the kindness with which we treat our animals to lead a worthy life. I have enormous respect for the bullock cart driver who once told me he does not eat beef, because the bull gives him a living but not to these trumped up vegetarians with a cockeyed complex.

  • 5
    0

    Can’t yahapalanaya do a single good thing? Why can’t they close the zoos, ban the use of elephants in peraheras, ban temples from owning them, forbid animal sacrifices? If they have to be corrupt politicians like all the rest, can they at least undertake this one task?

    • 2
      0

      Paul

      I admire your verbal commitment for animals.

      But banning elephants in processions won’t be easy as it’s a deeply rooted tradition in Asian countries.

      It’s more difficult task than asking to relieve horses from races and other duties.
      As far as we want elephants in processions, (at least in our major processions) temples will have to look after some.

      What’s your attitude towards dogs? Aren’t dogs happy with their life with humans? Is it possible to tell dogs to go back to the wild where they came from?

      I think the best sacrifice we can make for the animals is stopping hunting & slaughtering them.

      Are you ready to lead a vegetarian life?

      If the world is ready for that we’re ready to campaign to ban elephants in processions.

      • 3
        0

        sr I have been a vegetarian for years. I agree that it is impossible to stop all ill-treatment of animals but at least a start could be made. Any reduction in their suffering will be welcome.

        As far as dogs are concerned, they are domesticated animals. I think that all dog owners should be registered and licensed to own dogs. Stray dogs will then gradually disappear without Government intervention.

    • 1
      0

      Paul:-
      Why only Elephants? What about the Humans of Sri Lanka?

      Isn’t Sending Soldiers on both Sides to Fight Wars, Human(Animal) Sacrifice?

      • 1
        0

        Yes of course it is. Personally, I wouldn’t take the life of any human being just because the Govt wanted it. Others may have different positions and some may not be able to afford the luxury of choice.

  • 4
    1

    Dehiwala Zoo should be relocated and should become an animal safari like p,ace where animals are treated and research related to animals are conducted.

    Dehiwala Zoo is old concept and inhumane.

    • 5
      2

      jim softy

      “Dehiwala Zoo is old concept and inhumane.”

      Oh really, have you thought about your concept of people, their life, and their relation with others, rights, livelihood, habitat, dignity, safety and security, …………. your hatred towards the entire humanity especially towards yourself, …..?

      • 1
        1

        Dumb Native Veddo:

        There is nothing permanent.

        People have to change with the times and with the thoughts.

    • 1
      0

      Jim Softy:-

      “Dehiwala Zoo should be relocated and should become an animal safari like place where animals are treated and research related to animals are conducted.”

      Isn’t that what Rajapakse was trying to do, by destroying all the Natural, Indigenous Wild Life around the Yala National Park?

  • 3
    1

    My father Mohamed Sameen was known as the best and wonderful administrator of the Dehiwala zoo. During his time it’s a completely different story at the zoo. If he still living he would have been a heart broken man to see the pathetic plight of the present day zoo. He gave his entire life to the zoo, rain or shine, day and nigh he was in and out of it, every moment he was at the pulse of it.

    In his days, it’s nominated the best zoo in Asia, and one of the best in the world.

    He gave the best care to the animals, and made it the best place for the animals and the visitors to be. That’s reason, he was invited to set up the Singapore and Australian Zoo. Unfortunately, while at work he had a massive heart failure, and passed away in the Kalubowila hospital. We were practically brought up in the zoo for we lived in the staff quarters.

    My Humble request to all not to destroy see this beautiful thing and take good care of those innocent and majestic creatures.

    • 4
      1

      You are wrong Marzooka Sameem.

      It was in Lyn de Alwis’s Days, that Dehiwala Zoo was nominated the best Zoo in Asia, and one of the best in the world.

      Lyn was even Chosen by Singapore to set up their first Safari Park.

      • 2
        0

        Hamlet is correct.

        The great Lyn De Alwis took over from a another legend, Aubrey Weiman, who set a very high standard. It was a hard act to follow, but Lyn De Alwis succeeded, and was acclaimed worldwide for the high standards he set and maintained. The welfare of the animals was paramount.

        Alas, after that it all went downhill……

  • 4
    3

    Why can’t you write about the cages where hundreds of thousand Tamils were herded and caged with barbed wires in 2009.

  • 2
    1

    You watch the eyes, each and every domesticated elephants cries all the time.

  • 1
    1

    A society that ill treats Animals cannot be much good at humanity as well.

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