An “animal lover” goes to the zoo because they want to observe or photograph the animals who are held captive in those compounds. Perhaps their fascination is innocent and comes from a place of good intent. Of course we want to see a lion in real life. And we may want to swim with dolphins. It’s just not right to do that when the lion and the dolphin have their hearts broken and their freedom taken away. Zoos and dolphinaria are not their natural habitats. Another example that has prime relevance today is riding an elephant or going for an elephant ride/safari because you “love” elephants.
Sure, the basic premise of admiration towards animals does exist. But, what’s missing is empathy, respect, and most importantly: awareness. Awareness is missing, of the fact that any wild animal in captivity is not happy. The animal you watch or photograph while he or she is confined to a compound, is away from their natural state, their natural habitat, and their “people.” There are data and scientific explanations that prove this. The elephant that you may “pet” or ride at a safari or a petting zoo or even a temple is not really an elephant, for they have lost their sense of self.
Respect requires abstaining from these activities, because animals are reduced to mere show-pieces, and are commoditized. They are put on ticketed displays, and used to offer rides as a means of transport.
Empathy is missing from these scenarios. While we may enjoy looking at these animals, watching them, admiring them, photographing them, sketching them, writing about them, or perhaps even cuddling them, we forget to put ourselves in their shoes. We forget what it would be like to be ripped away from our homes, our loved ones, and our very own innate nature. Most of us love talking about animals, but we must convert ideology into practice. Each time we buy a ticket to zoo or an aquarium we are supporting an industry that is cruel and inhumane. And every time we purchase an animal product, such as milk, meat, silk, or wool, we take away precious animal lives.
It is time to turn ideology into tangible actions, and you can do this today in so many ways. By donating to your local shelter to help animals in need. By putting bird feeders and water bowls on balconies, terraces, and footpaths. By spreading awareness on the benefits of a plant-based diet. By refusing to eat meat, drink milk, or consume any other animal product. By standing up for the interests of animals.
Featured image: a monkey in a cage at a zoo. Image credit Kim Bartlett – Animal People, Inc.