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.