YOUNG WORLD

Animal menagerie

BRIJ KISHORE GUPTA

Tiger, tiger, burning bright in a zoo, which is just right... .

Tiger, tiger, burning bright in a zoo, which is just right... .  

For almost a decade now, zoos have been changing from being zoological gardens to large naturalistic spaces. Zoos have copied enclosure designs from each other, using larger open habitats and model exhibits and have learnt from experiences of the animal habitat in the wild. The question asked commonly is since animals are happy and healthy in zoos, is there a need to protect them in national parks and sanctuaries as well?

Zoo animals often are healthier and live longer than their wild counterparts since they are freed from the need to look for food and shelter, always be wary of predators and provided treatment for illness and injury.

It is true that captive animals have less freedom of choice in terms of movement. Though animals in the wild have freedom of movement, many species enforce their own limitations through territorial behaviour, marked by scents and availability of food.

Though the debate of whether animals in the wild are happier than those in captivity will always be stuck on the larger question of imposing human values on them, today through a scientifically based plan of naturalistic habitat design it is possible and constitutes an essential component of well being in zoo animals.

Animals and their habitats are inseparable and normal levels of general activity and foraging are encouraged. Designs in zoos have to take into account animal and human behaviours.

To understand this concept we need to place the animal in a dominant position. When the lion is inside a cage, the humans outside are dominant. When we are in a cage, the animal outside is dominant. If I was walking through the Gir sanctuary at night, the barriers between the lions and me are not clearly defined and the lion is in a dominant position. Landscaping and designing are, therefore, important. The barrier between the animal and the view should be invisible and generate enough excitement for the viewer.

Often people throw things at the animals, complaining they are not exhibiting proper "animal like behaviour". Zoos can be seen as a theatre or stage cleverly built and serving the important purpose of showing people that they and the forest are no longer inseparable and that if they respect the animal they will be welcome.

Zoos are common to Species Survival Plans and are increasingly important to save biodiversity. Contrary to the dictionary meaning of zoos, our Wildlife Protection Act refers to the zoo as an establishment, whether stationary or mobile, where animals are kept for exhibition to the public. The recent amendment also includes circuses. Modern zoos are more cooperative, organised and highly professional institutions than before.

Recently the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust changed its name to Durrel Wildlife Preservation Trust. Many American zoos have added the term "Botanical Gardens" to their names recognising the importance of landscape and habitat.

In India, the Nehru Zoological Park embodies many principles of global trends with regard to their large naturalistic exhibits with emphasis on native regional species.

The modern zoo is a place where quality is more important than quantity. Natural exhibits encountered in the wilderness benefits people and make zoos a lot more fun.

This is certainly significant as globally zoos, Botanical Gardens and Aquariums host more than 300 to 400 million visitors each year. Thus they provide meaningful education and recreation apart from conservation and research.