Reuben David on the importance of zoos

The innovation of keeping animals, birds and reptiles in captivity comes from the Bible, which says, go unto the Ark; you and your household; and take unto the Ark with you from all living creatures, two of every kind, one pair, one male and female. I will save them together with you, so that after the flood they may multiply and grow and fill the earth.

With Noah’s help, god saved numerous animals and birds from extinction. Probably the wildlife sanctuaries and the zoological parks carry on the inheritance by being Noah’s Arks in a scientific way and help save birds, animals and reptiles. Let this be an allegory, or a fantasy or a myth, but the thought itself is wonderful and full of imagination and gives the entire background of preservation of wild life, even though it may have been a million years ago.

A zoo garden or park is a connecting link between man and wildlife.

It is the only place where a city dweller comes in direct contact with wild life and studies the cultural, scientific, and educational aspects of a zoological garden. The present humdrum of life does not leave enough time to watch and study birds and animals in their natural surroundings and environment.

A zoological garden is necessary in today’s life and has always been the centre of attraction for both the young and old alike and where both the poor and rich have full advantage of studying and watching birds and animals at close quarters. While, in nature one hardly gets such an opportunity. We do not know much about our wild life, therefore a zoo is not only a source of joy, providing relaxation and enjoyment to people, while side by side fostering knowledge of the animal kingdom. Many times, I have heard grown-ups saying, we went to the zoo, because the children wanted to see animals. As if there was nothing interesting for them to see, and a zoo is only meant for children. Such people are possibly devoid of finer sentiments and human feelings. On the contrary it is a source of knowledge and information for them, which they can impart to their children.

In order to educate the public in cities, the establishment of zoo gardens and parks can certainly help towards preservation of wild life. I am of the opinion, that in small cities, small zoos can be established to educate people, about our vanishing natural resources and it can also assist in its own way towards preservation, if properly conducted.

After all a zoological garden is not only meant for amusement and entertainment, but also gives a visual education of natural history and biology.

Most people do not understand the difference between a zoo garden and a zoological park. A zoo garden is a place where a number of birds, animals and reptiles are exhibited in a small area in cages or in the open, for an educational, recreational, cultural and aesthetic need.

While a zoological park is a broader term, where the area is larger and maintained in a habitat like their natural environment, resembling a sanctuary to some extent.

It is a common feeling among people that zoo animals are miserable and do not have enough space, as they would have in a forest. But, with experience it is observed that some of the mammals and bird live better in captivity and breed freely in smaller enclosures and aviaries. Another common belief is that zoo animals are unhealthy.

But, actually in well-managed zoos, the majority of birds and animals are healthier than those living in the wild, where everything depends on the survival of the fittest. While, in a zoo, they are regularly fed and looked after properly. In fact a good zoo, is judged not merely by the number of different species of animals and birds, but, by the health and happiness of the birds and animals..

In order to help increase the number of endangered birds and animals, a good number of such animals should be housed in zoos.

The captive breeding of birds and animals has to be done on scientific lines and with full cooperation from different zoos all over the world..

Conservation –

Many of the extinctions of wild life in the past have been accidental or by ignorance. Conservation of nature is done in a scientific way.

The destruction of habitat is undoubtedly the major cause of changes in animal populations of the world. Over the past two or three centuries; the draining of marshes, felling of forests, cultivation of grasslands by domestic stock have changed the land beyond imagination in most parts of the world. Now, there are 270 endangered mammals and birds in the world. No animal in the wild can survive without its own habitat. Rampant and indiscriminate shooting with high velocity and modern rifles, jeeps and blinding searchlights, and pollution of different kinds have affected the fauna, which is a grave situation. Conservation is basically the maintenance of such a habitat, whether it is a jungle, semi forest, salt or marsh land or a private reserve.

Breeding of rare animals and birds in captivity is an important conservation measure. It is even more important that zoos should breed their own stocks of rare and common animals. Although for many years to come, zoos will be able to draw from nature. Particularly with apes and carnivores animals, where heavy losses are experienced due to method of capture, epidemics and virus infections. Almost eighty species of birds have become extinct in the world in the last three centuries and pesticides are also a great threat to wild life.

Pythons and rat snakes prey on rodents. Reduce the number of snakes and there will be an undesirable increase of rodents and so on. Most birds feed on insects. Without birds, agriculture would have to close down overnight, and the whole human population would be at stake. The huge increase in human population and their struggle for food and modern mechanical ways means destruction of the unarmed army of birds and animals is heading towards its own end. If we want to save them from extinction, a number of wild life sanctuaries, zoological parks and zoological gardens can help in the preservation of wild life.

The need for kindness in captivity –

Kindness and gentle handling is a must, provided you want to keep birds and animals happy, healthy and in good cheer.

I have observed in most zoos that the keeper never bothers to pet his wards but waits for the bell to ring, so that he can run home. Even while cleaning cages or enclosures, the animals and birds keep on watching the keeper for sympathy and friendship. On the contrary the keepers sometimes has a stick in hand and frightens the animal. For money, some keepers will pull the whiskers of a tame tiger or lion to make them growl and please the visitors. I know of a zoo-man who tried to catch an eland from the enclosure for treatment by making him run till he fell down with exhaustion. Most zoo keepers have crude methods of trapping and catching animals from one enclosure to another, in the process the entire herd is frightened and disturbed. The chaos makes the animals dash against the enclosure walls, breaking their horns and antlers in this way. It is a pity that even in such modern times when human beings can walk on the moon, such cruel methods are adopted in zoos. Such zoos are not an asset to wild life. This proves a point that only good zoos should be supported and maintained. All animals under our control are our moral responsibility. It is our duty to look after them, feed them and keep them happy and healthy.

With our love and care, they will not feel that their captivity is a burden.

** Published in Animal Citizen – 1976.