Thursday, October 18, 2007

Le roi est mort - the king is dead!

The very concept of a Zoo in today's space age of entertainment is medieval and in a perverse manner, primordial. The recent death of the lonely lion, Amar, in Mumbai's reprehensibly maintained zoo is further testimony of our inability to understand and care for nature's beings. Once you see a lion in the wild ( the above picture is of Ramzana, a wild lioness in the Gir National Park), you will feel ashamed to visit a zoo, and see the king languish.
Let us first wonder whether there is a need for a Zoo in the first place. The theory proposed by our governing bodies is that we need to showcase the animals to people, especially children and the underprivileged. It is not like they don't have other forms of entertainment, like the 100 channels on television, cricket, movies, our innumerable cultural and religious festivities, and so on. Can we justify and continue to perpetuate a crime against innocent wild animals, which are captured and separated from their homes for the sake of entertainment? One justification I was given is that not everyone can afford to go to wildlife sanctuaries to see the animals in their natural habitat. Does a zoo exist only because of our economic backwardness? The very fact that prosperous, developed western countries have zoos is proof of the flaw in this argument.I am sure there are many in our country who cannot afford to see the many historical or natural wonders of our country - the Taj Mahal or the famed Sun temple of Konark. Should we then relocate these monuments to Mumbai as the poor ‘janata’ of Mumbai cannot travel the distance?
How many of us have taken the time to visit art galleries, or have taken our children to the Museum? Have we ever admired the menacing gargoyle's adorning the CST building? Mumbai has a full fledged National Park within its municipal limits – one needn’t go far to be in the thick of the jungle, but a miniscule percentage of urban residents bother to visit it. Our city truly has much to offer, and a terrible zoo needn’t be part of the itinerary.Cramped cages littered with excrement, emaciated animals living a desultory existence, ruing their fate, insensitive visitors teasing the animals – the conditions for animals are inhuman. The authorities need to improve the pathetic conditions, and definitely stop getting any more animals to the Zoo. Wild animals belong in the wild, and if at all they need to be in captivity, it needs to be in a rescue centre for rehabilitation, and not as a vulgar spectacle in a filthy zoo.
Expanding and modernizing the zoo is a complete waste of taxpayers’ money, and an insult to proud creatures of the wild. The money would be better spent in securing the future of our magnificent forests, which are being decimated at an alarming rate. Let us ring the death knell on zoos, and not their inhabitants.