Down to Earth - - REVIEW -

How did the con­cept of zoos orig­i­nate and where does the de­bate re­gard­ing zoos stand cur­rently in the world? The con­cept of zoos came about as a sym­bol of wealth, power and cu­rios­ity. An­i­mal col­lec­tions can be traced to an­cient Egypt some 3,000 years ago. The Deer Park in Sar­nath in 5th cen­tury BC was also one of the first zoos in In­dia, but this place pro­moted re­spect for an­i­mals. Ram Brahma Sanyal, for­mer su­per­in­ten­dent of the Ali­pore Zoo in Kolkata, wrote the first mod­ern zoo man­age­ment book in the world in 1892.

How­ever, there has al­ways been op­po­si­tion to keep­ing an­i­mals in cap­tiv­ity, with the mod­ern anti-zoo move­ment be­ing formed in 1984 with the for­ma­tion of Zoo Check (now called ‘ Born Free Foun­da­tion'). Now the de­bate on keep­ing an­i­mals in cap­tiv­ity is stronger than ever be­fore with the role of zoos be­ing ques­tioned both on con­ser­va­tion and moral grounds. Sev­eral species like the polar bears, ele­phants and cetaceans are at the cen­tre of the cur­rent de­bate on whether wild an­i­mals in cap­tiv­ity have a fu­ture. What mea­sures should be adopted to re­vamp the poor con­di­tion of zoos in In­dia? In­dia has ex­cel­lent zoo leg­is­la­tions, with the Cen­tral Zoo Author­ity (CZA) be­ing the nodal agency for gov­ern­ing and mon­i­tor­ing zoos. The prob­lem lies in the im­ple­men­ta­tion of reg­u­la­tions. Breed­ing should be con­trolled, even stopped, for species that can­not be sat­is­fac­to­rily housed in cap­tive con­di­tions.

The cre­ation of a spe­cial­ist zoo cadre, con­stant mon­i­tor­ing of zoo con­di­tions by the CZA, and clo­sure of zoos that are be­yond re­pair should be to­day's agenda. Th­ese are out­lined in the In­dian Zoo In­quiry Project, which I co­or­di­nated to re­view the con­di­tions of zoos.

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