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Sunday, Aug 18, 2019

Wildbuzz | Zoos versus freedom

Children were asked to paint on the theme of animals in the wild versus zoos and most of them painted in favour of zoos.

punjab Updated: Oct 08, 2017 14:06 IST
Vikram Jit Singh
Vikram Jit Singh
Hindustan Times
Paintings depict animals and birds feeling safe and happy in zoos.
Paintings depict animals and birds feeling safe and happy in zoos.(Courtesy : MC ZOOLOGICAL PARK, CHHATBIR)

Asked to paint on the theme of animals in the wild versus zoos, an estimated 80% of the children delivered a colourful, sensitive and love-filled verdict in favour of the latter. Deeply concerned, children discounted the freedom afforded by jungles and felt that wildlife was happier in zoos, better looked after and fed, and shielded from such threats as poaching/hunting, tree felling, contamination and other forms of human exploitation.

Such an unusual reflection of children’s thoughts --- contrary to presumptive notions of freedom’s supreme allure --- came to the fore during a painting competition organised at Chhatbir zoo on October 4 to celebrate “Wildlife Week”. As many as 168 children (classes 1-8) drawn from 29 tricity schools participated.

The budding and creative souls expressed themselves through imaginative blurbs in the paintings such as a peacock declaring to a fellow avian: “Such a great life! The zoo is safer than the forest.” That same painting had a parallel depiction of a hunter taking aim at a bird in the jungle and the targeted avian declaring wistfully: “I wish I was in the zoo. At least I was safe there.”

The children’s quixotic world view tilts against the broad emphasis of governmental forest and wildlife policies or even those lobbies wanting zoos closed. Innocent kids may not have adequate exposure to the wilderness and their views are shaped by a predominantly negative media that lacks a sense of the “bigger picture”. However, what cannot be trifled is the children’s purity of sentiment. They are right also, to an extent: vultures are safer in captivity than freedom granted in a contaminated, killer countryside!

Hopefully, the wilderness will not be ravaged to such an extent in the decades to come that these paintings prove an unheeded prophecy.


An Astore markhore shot by Texas hunter, Fred Rich, in 2016, Gilgit-Baltistan, with horns 49.5 inches long.
An Astore markhore shot by Texas hunter, Fred Rich, in 2016, Gilgit-Baltistan, with horns 49.5 inches long. ( Courtesy: NATIONAL PARKS OF PAKISTAN )

A rich hunter has made a successful bid of $1,00,000 to shoot a near-threatened Astore markhore in Gilgit-Balistan (GB), the high-altitude areas of Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir. This constitutes a record bid for a markhore, the globe’s largest mountain goat endowed with flaring, corkscrew horns and a loyalty to austere heights and dizzying crags. The markhore is Pakistan’s national animal and it cannot be hunted by Pakistani nationals. However, a very limited number of trophy hunting permits (four for 2017-’18) are issued each year ahead of winter to foreign hunters in designated Community Controlled Hunting Areas (CCHA). Trophy hunting is premised on sustainability, ie, a “cream-skimming” exercise in synergy with stability and growth of species population.

While the record markhore bid is huge, it pales in comparison to the $3,50,000 that American hunter, Corey Knowlton, paid to shoot a critically-endangered Black rhino in Namibia in 2015. As much as 80 per cent of markhore hunting fees are ploughed back into local community for education, health and community development. Wildlife officials of GB stated that community-supported hunting lends economic and conservation/protection incentives to people and curbs poaching, though poaching by the odd official here and there remains a concern.

Anchored in local community participation, regulated hunting of endangered species and allied conservation measures have earned support of the WWF-Pakistan and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the latter stating: “Markhore are now well-protected and appear to be experiencing a significant recovery (in Gilgit-Baltistan).”


A dead Magur catfish pulled out from polluted Dhanas lake.
A dead Magur catfish pulled out from polluted Dhanas lake. ( PHOTO: SAPNA PANDITA )

The presence of heavy metals (HM) in water consumed by humans has health implications such as retardation. Fish muscle can absorb HMs and humans can in turn consume the flesh with similar health implications. The neglected Dhanas lake is heavily polluted via the PGIMER draining laundry wastes/detergents rich in nitrates/phosphates into the waterbody. The Panjab University’s zoology department conducted a study on ‘Biomagnification of HMs at Dhanas Lake’ under assistant professor Dr Ravneet Kaur.

An ultra-sophisticated instrument, the Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometer, was deployed to determine HM pollution index for water and HM absorbed in gills, muscles and scales of two snakehead fish (Channa punctatus) specimens from Dhanas lake. “Our study found the index was lesser than highest permissible value (which is 100) but yet remained on the higher side at 74.54. HMs found in Dhanas waters were arsenic, chromium, lead, mercury and cadmium. Absorption of HMs in snakehead organs was on the lesser side though mercury and chromium were found in fish muscle. Chromium was found in gills and scales also. Arsenic, cadmium and lead were not present in muscles,” Dr Kaur told this writer.

A principal reason why snakeheads absorbed lesser HMs could lie in the fact that this species is equipped with accessory air-breathing organs, which filter HMs. However, common and silver carps, rohu and catfish found at Dhanas, and which have suffered from serial mortality as recent as August 20, need to be tested. “Carps breathe through gills, lack accessory organs and could be absorbing hazardous amounts of HMs in muscles. Though the study found snakeheads fit for eating, carps are heavily fished from Dhanas and consumed with unknown risks,” warned Dr Kaur.

The author can be contacted on

(Views expressed are personal)

First Published: Oct 08, 2017 14:04 IST

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