Zoo economics | Daily News

Zoo economics

The plight of animals at the national zoological gardens is worrisome, and pathetic. The zoo authorities have said that they may have to initiate foster programmes so that well-wishers could take care of animals that the zoo is not able to care for, in these difficult times. But this is an abnegation of the responsibility of the authorities to ensure maximum welfare for animals under its charge. How do the authorities ensure that animals given out to foster care are properly taken care of?

Will care depend on the funding allocated by those who are selected for the foster programmes? What would happen if someone neglects to deliver the money or food requirements on time?

Though the mechanics of the foster programme are not clear, it is not quite acceptable that the zoo animals are now expected to share in bearing the brunt of economic woes that are facing the country. However, animals don’t vote for governments after all, and that is not stated facetiously.

These are mute creatures that are being held in captivity in not so ideal habitats. Even though a zoo is a place that provides entertainment to schoolchildren and could be labeled a tourist draw as well, that does not justify the fact that zoos should be considered as compulsory in the modern scheme of things.

Sri Lanka could be one of the first countries that reconsiders the viability of maintaining a national zoo. This proposition may draw howls of protest from those who say they have the tourist industry’s welfare at heart, but any claim that tourists come to this country to visit the zoo would not ring true because many of these visitors come from countries that already have very well-equipped zoos. In this digital age life size simulations of zoos is achievable — and a future zoo in this country could be a close parallel, say to a planetarium which of course does not display real planets.

Whether it’s good economic times or bad, news items have been legion about this or that animal being subject to neglect at the zoo due to various circumstances. In this context it is frightening that the current economic crisis is threatening the welfare of animals on a hitherto unprecedented scale.

Some may take the attitude that this is not the time to talk of animal welfare when human beings are suffering as a consequence of the country’s economic maladies, but that would be ghoulish. Animals kept in captivity are helpless and are totally at the mercy of the human captors. Moreover the zoo is run under State supervision, and the State establishments notoriously do not function that well when they are tasked with serving humans. If the passport office does not have proper toilets — despite the large crowds that are queuing up these days for travel documents — can it be assumed that the administrators of zoos would provide livable facilities for animals?

Many zoo animals are said to be lethargic and confused. They are not in their natural habitats, but little has been done to take care of the need to ensure that these sentient beings are able to cope with the large crowds, and the limited facilities that are offered in conditions of captivity.

Zoos are an alien concept moreover to Sri Lankan culture. There is no history of animals being caged and kept for display purposes before the arrival of the British, and the steps taken by the colonizer to establish zoos.

Animal welfare activists, who make much noise about the domestication of elephants etc. for various purposes including temple festivals, do not typically say much about the fate of animals at the Dehiwela zoo. The current crisis and the talk of fostering animals etc. should engage the attention of animal welfare groups.

This crisis situation should lead to an entire reconsideration of the idea of a zoo in the first place, and then even if the campaigners cannot achieve the objective of perhaps shutting down the zoo, they could perhaps be able to ensure that the authorities do not take the current circumstances lightly.

Perhaps foreign zoo-expertise should be engaged to ensure that the animals are fed and kept reasonably well cared for. Expertise apart, foreign aid should be sought to ensure that the animals are kept under proper conditions during this crisis period. The world would listen — because there are so many animal welfare activists and NGOs all over the world that would understand the plight of these animals. It is known that Sri Lanka is going through a period of unprecedented economic meltdown. The animals do not have their own IMF, but a cry for help by those who care for them would elicit much sympathy, and perhaps funding as well.

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