Inuka inspired: What I think zoos really stand for

Animal activism

Admittedly, I haven’t been following news related to animals activism for a long time. Neither do I realise that there are so many “animal activist” around. While many sincerely feel great loss of such a majestic animal, a few “animal activists” sprung up to echo empty words of their utopian state of life in the wild.

While I do not proclaim myself as an animal activist and in no way are my words authoritative in this sector, I still stand that I have a slightly more than the common-average involvement in terms of animal conservation and sustainability though most of them are past involvements. Hence, will like to evaluate the basis of such sentiments of animals in captivity.

Should animals be caged?

The basic argument here is that some people feel sad that animals are caged up and die in the cage. I believe this is only a valid argument between institutes of animal conservation and the regulatory body of animal in captivity. I understand that people can feel uncomfortable that animals are locked up and seem to be enclosed purely for the “entertainment” of human.

But if we are to look at the situation objectively, how much of it are projections of our own thoughts and emotions on the state of the animals?

Anthropomorphism: The attribution of human characteristics and behaviors to a god, animal or object.

When we look at things or animals, undeniably, we try to frame in a context that we could understand and have a closer experience with. But the idea here is, do we truly know what the animal is going through or feel?

One is to look at the perception of time. How does animal perceive time? At what point of time, does repetitive action drives animals to frustration and start to affect their mental capacity? What is the memory capacity of the animals?

The other is to look at the needs of the animal. Undoubtedly, mental stimulation is vital for animals kept in captivity. Hence, most ethical zoo should have the system of introducing enrichment for the animals. How does one truly optimise the mental stimulation will depends largely on keen observation and proper planning of the care-takers.

Suppose say, if I were to rotate the enrichment given to the animals, will the animals recall it hence diminishing the sense of satisfaction or stimulation arising from the enrichment?

What is freedom?

The most prominent of arguments is that animals are truly only “free” in the wild. What does the term “freedom” constitutes? Does it constitute freedom from extinction, freedom from starvation or freedom from man-made death. If one is to observe nature, through the many Youtube videos at least, one could discover that nature is chaos. Because it is only through such chaos and struggle that it self-regulates and reaches equilibrium. Weighing between the various types of freedom, how do we truly measure up what is best for the animals?

Moving beyond the thin ice of anthropomorphism, we have to consider the context of the issue we are tackling. The population of most animals in the wild are declining rapidly. Why? Human activities is one of the factors. And is it due to a singular entity called the zoo or the aquarium or any other form of conservation that keep animals in captivity? No. It is due to a multitude of factors.

And in between the zoo and the wild, which of this has a higher number of animals dying? Does anyone know that between 2001–2010, there is a 40 percent decline in the number of polar bears in the wild. The estimated number is 1500 to 900. A total of 600 polar bears die in the wild in this period of time. For an easy figure, let’s just take that it is 600 times the number of polar bear that pass away in the Singapore Zoo.

We all observe how Inuka as a representation of a species has generate such grieve and sentiments across our nation and even internationally. Theoretically, if people truly care more about animals in the wild, the death of wild polar bears should be generating 600% more social media posts about polar bears than anything else. But truth be told, nobody really talks about polar bears usually. No, not even me. I don’t even know the numbers until I google it.

The heart of conservation

Hence, here lies the power of such institutes of animal conservation. It is the breeding ground for people to start to care and connect with the wildlife and the nature. An animal conservation center should in its full capacity aims to be operating with sustainable margins, uphold the integrity of care given to the animal and serve as an educational ground for the public.

While I do understand the sentiments of people feeling sad about animals being caged up and losing their “freedom”. I too want to believe that nature could balance itself. I want to believe that the wild is truly the best place and the only place for the animals. However, I cannot convince myself that they are the absolute truth.

The measurable truth is that, at this point, we are losing animal species at an alarming rate. And animal conservation will continue to be a tricky and controversial issue that requires balancing of various tipping point.

Having said that, could you imagine what it will be like if the core point of contact to appreciate wildlife in the heart of the city cease to exist?

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