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Why not lead the world in phasing out zoos?

Bihar’s stunning Rajgir area is home to a zoo and safari. But ‘zoo’ is just a short form for permanent house arrest for animals. This sentiment is evidently not shared by the Bihar government, for it is adding African animals to its collection. It has announced the enclosures will be in line with norms.

The Ambanis, known for their passion for animals, are also building India’s biggest zoo in Gujarat. It will house animals from all parts of the world.

In this era of the 6th extinction, unless it’s a conservation programme, should we still invest in zoos? What are the options?

If you asked me, I’d say invest in protected areas to conserve fragile ecosystems. The Bihar Government should look inwards, and the Ambanis are one of the only entities that could do this globally. Imagine if they kept a swathe of the collapsing Amazons intact?

The public can watch the animals in the wild online if cameras are installed. Or try their luck during limited safaris. At least the animals would remain free, possibly reproducing and flourishing, and the ecosystem safeguarded.

The increased passion for birding globally tells us the public can get a thrill from smaller stuff, as long as they can romp around in nature. Why not build on this instinct?

People today oppose hunting as cruel because it causes animals harm. Isn’t the argument of harm valid for zoos too? Given India’s own culture of Jainism, nonviolence and ahimsa, why not lead the world in phasing out zoos?

(The writer is the founder and director of Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group.)

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