Respect animal rights in pet trade

Recently, the central government floated draft rules to regulate the burgeoning pet business sector in which torture of animals often goes unpunished. Hereafter, such establishments are to be scrutinised by the state Animal Welfare Boards and mandatorily be registered. The public has  been asked to give suggestions over the rules, uploaded on the Environment Ministry’s website for a month-long period.

Individuals and institutions confine animals to enclosures for recreational, educational and therapeutic purposes. Caught up in the colonial legacy of conquest and possession, animals are forced to suffer silently for human pleasure. To see an animal when, where and how we want, we have created a culture of slavery and oppression.

Animal enclosures in the form of zoos arose in the early 19th century to exhibit the living trophies of imperial conquest. The great European powers, engaged in the business of colonising the planet, collected animals almost as a hobby and began displaying them in public zoos to engage the general public in the products and spoils of imperialism. Eventually, as the colonial empires expanded, the traditions of the European zoos were adopted by non-Western cultures, too.

Animals kept in enclosures are denied everything that makes their lives reminiscent. Every aspect of their lives is controlled and manipulated. They have virtually no choice in what or when they eat, whom they mate with, or whom they share space with. They are housed in cages that don’t come akin to their natural homes. Natural hunting and mating behaviours are virtually eliminated by regulated feeding and breeding regimen.

Captive animals go through loneliness and an abnormal self-destructive behaviour since they are denied everything that is natural. Captivity drives them insane. Animals that are meant to roam or fly over vast terrains are forced to exist in inadequate spaces. Though they like to avoid contact with humans, they are forced to have daily contact with man. They throw feces inside cage and eat their own vomit. Birds pluck out their own feathers. Elephants sway back and forth all day long. Tigers pace incessantly, and bears swivel endlessly.

Keeping animals in cages does nothing to foster learning or therapy. In fact, children exposed to animals destined to spend their lives behind bars for people’s amusement will become more disturbed rather than healed or educated.

Study after study, including by the zoo industry itself, has shown that most zoo visitors simply wander around, pause briefly in front of some displays, and spend their time on snacks and bathroom breaks.

Unnatural settings

Exhibiting animals in unnatural settings can only undermine conservation efforts. A species is in hazard when it is allowed to be used for display and entertainment. Instead of keeping animals in enclosures to learn about them, watching nature documentaries or observing the animals in their own natural habitats provide better insight.

Today, however, people have become much more informed about the needs and behaviour of wild animals and the toll that captivity takes on them. The University Grants Commission banned animal dissections in universities and colleges across India in the year 2014.

Though animal activists and courts are trying their best to control issues like Jallikattu and elephant torture in places of worship, some fundamental forces defy the implementation of such rules.

The intrinsic value of animal life and empathy for all living creatures is an essential aspect of our cultural and religious practices. Hinduism and Buddhism consider nature as sacred and humans equivalent to other living things.

Judaism, Islam and Christianity are more human-centred. Though they give man dominion over the animals, this dominion is considered more sympathetically as ‘stewardship’ (protective caring) of animals rather than power over them.

Display of kittens, puppies and birds choked in the excreta-filled emaciated cages of the Bengaluru’s pet shops in the Russell Market of Shivajinagar or hundreds of vendors who magnetise their customers with live fishes gulping for air in their baskets and ready to be cut and fried; are all symbols of the legacy of conquest and possession with which we look at creatures around us.

When hearts turn calloused and thoughts of profit rule over compassion, only strict rules can salvage the animals.

(The writer is Professor, Department of Zoology, Christ University, Bengaluru)

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