Curse of captivity: why zoos should be banned

Animal abuse is rampant on the streets where stray dogs are routinely abused, poisoned and killed


by Allia Bukhari

Express Tribune/ Oct 7, 2020


A life of confinement and profound despondency has become the ultimate reality of zoo animals depriving them of their natural habitats, needs, and freedom. From psychological disorders to poor health and reduced life spans, zoo animals are left at the mercy of incompetent managements, unsuitable living conditions and extreme and unfavourable climates. The imprisonment and isolation animals face only to be exhibited for humans have serious implications. Researchers and activists contend that animals in captivity exhibit unnatural neurotic and stereotypic behaviours, from aggression to stalled maturation, and affirm that zoos are poor imitations of the Earth’s diverse ecosystems, and insufficient substitute for a home, hence stressing the need to release animals into the wild.

Various incidents of animal abuse go unnoticed while those that make it to Twitter create momentary uproar without addressing the long-term underlying problems causing this savagery — the zoos itself.

The recently surfaced video of a brown bear at Karachi Zoo in a miserable state, languishing in heat, stirred a debate on why zoos even exist when they can’t look after animals. The video received much attention on social media with netizens taking the management to task for the mammal’s poor state. The bear was stuck in an enclosure and was visibly disturbed, much in need of a freezing cold environment — far from what Karachi has to offer. This is yet another account of animal suffering in a series of similar incidents.

The case of Kaavan is a horrific reminder of what animals go through in zoos with their freedom snatched and loneliness jeopardising their emotional well-being. Although now given a green light by the Islamabad High Court to be sent to a sanctuary in Cambodia for a better life, Kaavan had been chained in the past by zookeepers and was subjected to neglect and abuse for years, making him “the loneliest elephant in the world”.

The misery doesn’t end there. It seems as though society too needs to be educated. Animal abuse is rampant and a persistent problem on the streets where stray dogs are routinely abused, poisoned and killed. A great chunk of the population considers dogs impure and untouchables, forcefully relocating them from their neighbourhoods and resorting to beating and killing, being complicit in this apathy. A similar conduct is noticeable in zoos where visitors become a source of discomfort to animals and treat them as mere objects of gaze or entertainment without always acknowledging that animals too are worthy of respect and a dignified life.

The role of zoos is becoming a major topic of discussion worldwide with animal rights supporters questioning whether threatened and endangered wildlife is even preserved there or is it just the exotic wild animals kept to attract crowds. The lack of spaces, and a capitalist nature of zoos that treats animals as mere commodities to draw crowds is contradictory to the cause of ensuring their well-being. Furthermore, with technology gaining precedence in almost every field, there are various other ways of creating awareness and gaining knowledge about nature and wildlife than caging and imprisoning animals. The concept of zoos is outdated and doesn’t serve the purpose of conservation.

Supposedly built to “educate” people about animal welfare, zoos hardly enlighten, rather are a source of cheap entertainment at the cost of animals’ miseries and that itself is enough a reason to show they are not a solution, but part of the problem. Caging wildlife and exotic animals for mankind by depriving them of their natural social structures is detrimental in the long run. Nonetheless, the collective mindset that considers animals as inferior beings born to serve mankind is what prompts cruelty in the first place and this thinking needs to be shunned and discouraged — if you truly care about animals.