Death through captivity


By SM Mohd Idris

The shooting of a gorilla at the Cincinnati zoo has received the attention one could only expect. Truly it is tragic to even lose one of the world’s most critically endangered gorillas either in zoos or in the wild.

The decision to shoot the gorilla (Harambe) has provoked outcry from conservation and animal groups worldwide who called the decision to shoot the gorilla as sad and tragic, branding it as a “senseless and unnecessary death”.

The callous murder of an innocent creature would not have taken place if not for the gross parental negligence. It is the responsibility of parents and guardians to ensure that kids are safe in places like zoos and national parks and should not let down their guard thinking that such places are incredibly safe for children.

A negligent mother has caused the death of an innocent creature. The zoo director defended the shooting, claiming that the gorilla was agitated and disoriented which is expected; made worst by the ignorant, ogling, screeching crowds who may have added to further confusion and scarring the animal further, thus motivating the horrific response by the zoo’s Dangerous Animal Response Team.

The controversy over the gorilla’s death comes hot on the heels of another incident at a zoo in Santiago, Chile, weeks ago, when two lions were shot dead after a man entered their pen and stripped naked in a supposed suicide attempt. In that case, too, the zoo defended its action saying that no fast-activating tranquilizers were available. Then again there are brainless humans such as a woman who jumped into a tiger’s pen at the Toronto Zoo just to retrieve her fallen cap.

These incidents could have been avoided had people known that the consequences of their actions could result in innocent wildlife being killed, indicating how pathetic and clueless human beings can be for not using their brains.

Captivity has taken zoo animals’ lives and the time has come for Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) to ask a far more basic question – why do we need zoos? Proponents of zoos often argue that these institutions are a source of education for the public and play a role in conservation by protecting endangered species for re-introduction to the wild.

However, SAM’s perspective differs. People who observe animals in a zoo are witnessing animals in an artificial situation that cannot offer anything of value in terms of education, especially in our current information age, and objectifies animals as living trophies to be incarcerated for life.

Regarding conservation, the pleasant notion of zoos as nurseries for restocking wild populations of endangered animals has proved a fantasy in all except for the successful reintroduction of zoo-bred golden lion tamarins into the Atlantic coastal forests of Brazil.

In captivity, they are little more than showpieces that have been extracted from any sort of ecosystem. By further ignoring this fact and encouraging children to see wild animals in this way, children learn that these animals only have their worth in relation to their ability to entertain us.

The fact is, no matter how much zoos try to replicate the wild in a captive enclosure, nothing is comparable to life in the wild for animals. For predators like big cats, living in a ‘glorified enclosure’ that is a small fraction of their natural habitat and supplied with food, they lose the opportunities to fulfil their wild tendencies. As a result, captive lions and other far-roaming wildlife exhibit stereotypical behaviour, symptomatic of mental distress.

Harambe died because the zoo enslaved gorillas and all other wildlife species for human entertainment. It is captivity that had taken his life.

This further strengthens SAM’s position that zoos should be banned and an end to keeping wildlife in captivity since zoos are nothing more than amusement parks with educational placards that few people bother to read. It is the right of all animals to live free from exploitation and their rights protected by law.

S M Mohd Idris is President of Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM).

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