When we visit zoos, we sometimes wonder if it is the visitors rather than the animals on display who should be shut up in cages. A couple of weeks back, a photograph went viral over social media,...
When we visit zoos, we sometimes wonder if it is the visitors rather than the animals on display who should be shut up in cages. A couple of weeks back, a photograph went viral over social media, showing two crocodiles at the Karachi Zoo basking in the sun, their bodies covered with red stains, left by ‘paan’ and ‘gutka’. Thankfully, there was some outrage over social media, with people asking if animals, with whom we share the world, have no dignity and no right to protection. This behaviour is not uncommon. At zoos in all our major cities people can be spotted attempting to prod animals with sticks or pelt them with stones. The animals, locked behind bars, are unable to defend themselves. In other cases, people have passed razors to monkeys or thrown plastic bags into enclosures, in some cases causing the death of the animals which swallowed them.
It is difficult to say why people behave in this fashion. Surely it does not require a degree in zoology to recognize that handing over a razor blade or a cigarette to a chimpanzee could result in serious injury to the animal. Recently there have also been protests over the treatment of animals at the Islamabad Zoo and allegations that they were not being provided food due to corruption by the administration. The director of the Karachi Zoo says that there is not enough staff to keep a watch on all visitors. This may be correct. What we require is awareness programmes to dissuade people from deliberately attempting to provoke animals for their own amusement. The Lahore Zoo has begun such programmes for schoolchildren, but it will take a long time for the vile behaviour of zoo-goers to change. The Karachi Zoo administration also says major improvements are planned at the zoo, but we have heard similar accounts before.
The truth is that we seem unable to maintain any kind of humanity or good sense at zoos and, given the resource shortages many face, perhaps it would be wise not to maintain zoos at all. There is consistent debate abroad about the ethics of keeping animals caged in zoos; perhaps, only animals which face extinction in the wild should be kept at zoos so that they are protected and can be bred. Certainly, it will be a long time before Pakistan’s zoos are able to achieve anything like this. In the meanwhile, visitors to zoos need to be penalized for behaviour intended to hurt animals, mark them or demonstrate a lack of caring for other species which inhabit the globe.