India’s Central Zoo Authority announced this week that all 140 elephants in the nation’s zoos and circuses will be removed to sanctuaries and refuges, where they will be more free to live in the wild. Unfortunately, an additional 3,500 captive elephants, mostly in temples and working at logging camps, are unaffected by the measure.
The Indian ban is an excellent first step on a national scale, and zoos all over the world have been closing down their elephant “exhibits,” including London, Chicago and San Francisco, albeit sometimes after tragic deaths and years of suffering.
While it is wonderful that these beautiful creatures are moving to a better life, it begs the question…why stop at elephants? Zoos came into being to amuse and distract humans, but also to study animals and to give us the opportunity to connect back to nature. But the denaturing atmosphere of many zoos means that the animals do not behave “naturally” as they would in the wild. Even more disturbing are circuses, where sentient creatures are enslaved to perform for people’s pleasure….not much different than the gladiators of ancient Rome. Studies show that elephants in captivity live shorter lives and contract more diseases than their peers in the wild. And of course wild elephants face multiple challenges from human encroachment as well.
The fundamental question is about the rights of all living creatures and how distanced humans have become from seeing themselves as part of the natural world. If we recognized and acted as if we are part of, not apart from, the ecosystem, we might behave differently, and conditions for all living things would improve. Are we stewards of the earth, or plunderers of it? What would an elephant say to that question?
I have emailed the Indian Central Zoo Authority at email@example.com to thank them for their action…would you do the same?
Photo: Sasimoto via istockphoto