Instigating tigers to click videos at Ranthambore, chasing dolphins in speedboats at Goa, throwing peanuts at monkeys in zoos, the abuse of wild animals during safaris and zoo visits has reached a new low

From pelting stones at sleeping tigers in the Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan to throwing peanuts at monkeys inside Byculla Zoo, Mumbai; from entering inside the lion enclosure at Nehru Zoological Park, Hyderabad to instigating and taking selfies of angry animals (tigers, bears, lions, elephants) chasing overcrowded safari jeeps – the abuse of wild animals in the tourism industry has reached abysmal levels in the past few years.

Last month, the video of an angry rhino chasing noisy tourists in a Maruti Gypsy SUV at Kaziranga National Park in Assam took the internet by storm. In 2021, the entire world watched in horror when a 31-year-old man stood on boulders inside the lion enclosure at Hyderabad Zoo, while the big cat roared with a fixed gaze. The spine-chilling video of two women tourists being mauled by a tiger at a Beijing safari park garnered millions of views, but also left wildlife experts and animal rights activists fuming.

Animal rights activist turned BJP leader Maneka Sanjay Gandhi, who has been vocal about the cruelty towards animals, says that there should be animal-friendly enclosures. “Train the animal handlers and guards better, and make animal abuse punishable immediately. Today the zoos are not educational centres. They are torture chambers and are only visited by people who want recreation by teasing animals, or couples wanting a place to go. The tickets should be much higher as well. All visitors should be in groups with guides,” says Gandhi.

Nasty Tourists

A visit to any zoo or animal safari and you will see rowdy visitors thumping on aquarium glass panes, mocking birds in the aviary, throwing stones and coins at mouth gaping crocodiles, rattling safety rails, and kicking elephants during a ride among other silly things. The moment the exasperated animal reacts, they take selfies or videos and post them on social media for ‘instant validation.’ Talking about zoochosis (a psychological condition of animals kept in circuses and zoos), Sakshi Sharma (24), an animal rights activist explains, “Pacing, circling, swaying, moving back and forth, are signs of animals in distress. Swaying is a behaviour exhibited by captive elephants. This behaviour is commonly seen in zoos and not in the wild. The internal stress, depression, and insanity can lead to self-injury at times like banging their head on the wall, starving themselves, etc.”

Apex Observation

In the month of February 2023, PTI reported that a Supreme Court-constituted panel had asked the Union Environment Ministry to amend or withdraw the guidelines related to setting up zoos and safaris within tiger reserves and wildlife sanctuaries to discourage the use of wildlife habitats for tourism activities that are non-site specific.

In its report submitted to the SC, the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) also said that approvals given for setting up zoos and safaris within tiger reserves and protected areas should be withdrawn forthwith. Permission can only be given for activities involving the rescue and rehabilitation of injured or incapacitated animals from the same landscape, it said. The SC panel's observation came on an issue involving the establishment of a tiger safari in the buffer area of Corbett Tiger Reserve in Uttarakhand. Barely a month later, a video of a gypsy driver in Jim Corbett National Park provoking a tiger by bringing his vehicle close to it went viral. The angry tiger leaped out from the bushes and chased the car.

Abhishek Satam, a biologist at Byculla Zoo (aka Veermata Jijabai Udyan) says that parents and teachers should monitor the conduct of children. “Our security staff is present everywhere inside the zoo. The animal keepers report misconduct too.”

No Monkey Business

Zoos were created for scientists to do research on animal behaviour and anatomy. Today, zoos are meant to entertain and educate the public while having a strong emphasis on scientific research and species conservation. Public engagement, awareness-building, and fundraising activities are all part of conservation advocacy, for example, the ‘Adopt an Animal’ programme. However, Gandhi calls it “meaningless.” “It is just a way to make money and to allow people to show off that they have adopted a tiger when in fact they have done nothing to improve the animal's condition. Adoption of animals by zoos is meaningless. The animals that have supposedly been adopted are still treated by the same ignorant handlers. None of the money is used to make better enclosures or to feed them better. It would be better to have CSR money for zoos and to look at major overhauls. Many zoos in India are regarded as the worst in the world,” Gandhi rues.

Responsible Tourism

A new study by World Animal Protection urged travel agencies and tourists to go eco-friendly, opt for responsible travel and refrain from rides that lead to animal cruelty and suffering. The Real Responsible Traveller released on National Tourism Day, January 2023 has goaded several companies into protecting wildlife by opposing the sale of exploitative wild animal attractions. In fact, Airbnb,, and The Travel Corporation have proactively removed captive wildlife entertainment. But some sites still promote exploitative wildlife tourism through images and reviews on their website. Be it safaris in national parks or rides in zoos, Gajender Kumar Sharma, Country Director of World Animal Protection calls it commercial exploitation of wild animals. “Words like eco-friendly tourism etc. are just eye-wash. We need to check if companies are practicing something that is for the benefit of the environment, animals, and climate. So, unless their actions reflect this, it is difficult to believe. If a company says eco-friendly it means they are promoting more sustainable tourism,” Sharma says. He adds that just to make a little more money, sometimes, tour guides/drivers even go off route for tourists to catch a glimpse of a big wild animal. It’s high time people realize that any kind of animal entertainment for the leisure of tourists is strictly against wildlife tourism.

Wild Encounters

• In 2021 a man stood on boulders inside the lion enclosure at Hyderabad Zoo

• In 2022, a man was mauled to death by a lion when he tried to steal cubs from Accra Zoo, Ghana

• In 2023, a video of a man riding a boat in a crocodile-infested river in Indonesia went viral

• In January 2023, a video of a rhino chasing rowdy tourists in safari jeeps at Kaziranga National Park, Assam went viral

• In 2016, a Tiger mauled two women tourists at Beijing National Park

Today the zoos are not educational centres. They are torture chambers and are only visited by people who want recreation by teasing animals, or couples wanting place to go.” — Maneka Gandhi, BJP leader cum animal rights activist

Working in entertainment should involve consent and be a joy but elephants who are forced into this industry are taken from their families, beaten, shackled, and abused. My friends at PETA India and I encourage everyone to avoid elephant rides." — John Abraham, actor cum PETA ambassador

Words like eco-friendly tourism etc. are just eyes wash. We need to check if companies are practicing something that is for the benefit of the environment, animals, and climate." — Gajender Sharma, Country Director of World Animal Protection

( Source : Deccan Chronicle )
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