The Real Story Behind the Cages

The Real Story Behind the Cages
Seven years ago at the vjb Udyan Zoo, Mumbai. A white Bengal tiger stood less than a metre away from me, only a thin sheet of wire separating me from this magnificent beast. Streaks of jet-black stained elegantly through her snowy-white coat, like flecks of ink on a fresh sheet of canvas; she paced elegantly through the tall grassland, like a famous ballet dancer announcing her presence on stage[B2] . I stood there in awe, admiring the combination of pure beauty and strength, when she stopped and looked down upon me, straight into my eyes. Of course, as a ten year-old, I could not help but be scared but, still to this day, remember the distinct look in her glassy-blue eyes. However, she did not have the same look as those I had previously seen in wildlife pictures ? of fear, vulnerability and anguish, but that of grace, pride and bliss
The ethics of keeping animals in zoos has been a controversial issue, globally[B5] . Like so many similar subjects regarding animal safety and well-being, a lot depends upon one?s assessment of the extremes. Who, for example, would take offence at the sight of a well-fed native pony grazing in an acre field? Yet, who would not[B6] feel sorry for an elephant in a circus trailer, endlessly pacing behind bars? [B7] By understanding that there is a spectrum of possible conditions of captivity from national parks to battery hens, and by appreciating that we all have a threshold beyond which we will point the finger and say ?that is cruel,? we can begin to delimit the types of conditions that we accept and come to realise that zoos, in fact, are not as pitiless as some people may think. [B8] Some may argue that capturing animals from their natural habitats and environments to be kept in zoos for our own purposes breaches their rights to true freedom[B9] ; however, the realistic life of wild animals is hardly called ?freedom? at all[B10] . The issues of poaching are common to every continent of the globe; statistics show that since 2001, 572 animals have been killed in Zimbabwe alone1[B11] ! Imagine the number of wild animals that have been killed worldwide, and ask yourself the meaning of freedom. [B12] Animals in zoos, as a matter of fact, are lucky[B13] [B14] . One of the reasons animals are taken into captivity in zoos is because they are under threat if they stay in their natural habitat. There are more than 5000 species in the world in danger of extinction (including the white Bengal tiger), but zoos claim they could save 500 of them from going extinct[B15] 2. In contrast, [B16] animals in zoos tend to live longer lives, feed better (and at more regular intervals), suffer from fewer parasites and diseases, live without fear of predation, and live without famine3. What people fail to see as regards to living in a natural habitat is that advancements in habitat research have enabled modern zoos to recreate healthy environments to nurture their animals. For example, the research on grooming habits of brown bears in London Zoo caused the planting of several rough-barked trees in the bear enclosure, giving the bears a more natural setting4. [B17] Of course, while the captive surroundings can never fully mimic life in the wild,[B18] we, as animal lovers, can do our best to see that they live comfortable, fruitful lives[B19] . Such compromises are necessary because ?zoos provide an invaluable service to society through the medical and wildlife research their existence facilitates?5. John Knowles of Marwell Zoological Park, England[B20] , theorises that animals like the scimitar-horned oryx, which normally pick out a meagre existence in the semi-desert scrubland of the Sahara, do so not because they choose or enjoy this harsh environment, but because they have been forced to the fringes [B21] by species better equipped to out-compete them elsewhere. According to his theory, the scimitar-horned oryx should be in ?heaven among the lush meadows? in England ? as indeed they seem to be. Also, he states the lions at zoos like Chester Zoo, England, are offered the option, every winter day, of centrally-heated accommodation, or the chill winds of Cheshire. They ?virtually always choose to brave the elements?, (even preferring ice and snow to the warmth indoors!), being a ?reminder perhaps that, although we think of lions as tropical animals, they once roamed throughout Europe, and their current range is directly due to human intervention?6. [B22] It is thus clearly apparent that the animals in zoos are in no way restricted from an environment similar to their own and, in fact, live better lifestyles than those in the wild.[B23] Some may say that animals are inevitably confined in smaller spaces than nature intended, and by keeping them from the public by cages and bars is restricting their expected instincts; they may suffer psychological distress, often displayed by abnormal or self-destructive behaviour. [B24] For example, aquatic animals do not have as much water as they would in the wild, and birds are prevented from flying away by having their wings clipped and being kept in aviaries. [B25] On the other hand[B26] , the reason which zoos exist is to protect endangered species and to help us understand and defend our animal cousins more successfully, and by conserving such species, they can be studied by veterinarians, scientists, and animal behaviourists more closely, more rigorously, and over a more sustained period of time, to ultimately give them a better and happier zoo-life. Zoos give young people an appreciation and heighten their awareness of the dangers animals are facing in the wild. [B27] Most modern zoos have their main emphasis on conservation as well as education ? the reason that so many schools take children to zoos is to educate them about nature, the environment, endangered species, and conservation. Far from encouraging the bad treatment of animals, zoos provide a direct experience of other species that will increase ecological awareness globally.[B28] Conclusively, zoos exist for four main reasons: to protect endangered species, to educate children as well as adults, to research animal behaviour and provide a ?good day out?7. From this, as well as the points previously mentioned, it is more than evident that zoos are in no way keeping animals merely for the purpose of our own satisfaction, but purely for reasons to nurture, display and conserve the beautiful creatures of this Earth for generations to come; and, you never know, maybe some day you yourself[B29] will witness the white Bengal tiger, dancing through the pastures in central Mumbai

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