The image of the fearsome tiger looming over the frightened man in Delhi zoo is something many of us won’t forget for a long time. But what most of us will forget are the appalling conditions in most of our zoos.
The reviews which are underway now will in no way improve things unless there is a drastic rethink of the way in which our zoos are run. In the first place, the high noise and pollution levels in most urban areas are detrimental to both the mental and physical health of the animals.
The zoos are in the first place not scientifically planned. There is rampant corruption to the extent that food meant for the animals is siphoned off by zoo workers. The zoos are in the first place not scientifically planned. The bigger animals like elephants do not have enough room to move around.
The big cats too are trapped in small enclosures. The cold-blooded animals often do not have proper heating or cooling devices, something which has often led to their deaths. Among the biggest drawbacks is the fact that many zoos are not run by people who have any scientific knowledge of animals, their habits, their needs and how to treat specific species.
Animals are very prone to seasonal changes, of which most zoo officials know nothing about.
The next question which must be raised is how much knowledge we are gaining from coming to zoos and looking at animals in their enclosures where their behaviour is very different from the one in their natural habitat. Many people come to jeer at the animals, throw rubbish into the enclosures and even injure them.
Perhaps, the fact that the animals are caged gives them a sense of false superiority. The volume of traffic in most zoos makes it impossible for the staff to check this ugly behaviour. This makes it imperative to impose severe fines on people who indulge in hurting or teasing animals and regulating the number of people who can come in per day.
We ought to take a lesson from Africa where in the vast and sprawling game reserves, people can view these majestic beasts in their natural habitats under the guidance of trained experts. We do have game reserves here too, but the problem of human habitation poses a threat to many species.
Perhaps one way out would be situate zoos away from urban centres which would mean that, to an extent, only those who are really interested in animals would visit them and not those looking to pass the time of day.