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Zoos or Prisons- Is there any difference?

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Mumbai newspapers reported the death of a six-year-old Humboldt penguin. When news that the Byculla zoo, with a terrible track record of 444 dead animal prisoners over the last 6 years, had decided to acquire these 8 unfortunate penguins, the usual arguments were put forth by animal welfare groups: the penguins were not suited to Mumbai’s hot and humid climate; they needed cleaner enclosures and chillers to reduce the water temperature in their tank; they needed more hygienic conditions and better food.

There were rumours that this ill-conceived idea was the brain child of a local politician, and that it was on his insistence that the penguins arrived at Mumbai zoo on July 26 at a staggering cost of three million USD. Within two weeks of their arrival, one penguin by the name of Dory died.

The zoo failed to provide the sick penguin with the required medical care even as she struggled for life. As per newspaper reports, the zoo has no emergency room to take care of the penguins and no equipment aside from a nebulizer. Their enclosure required chillers, however they were installed a whole two months after the arrival of the penguins. The reports also spoke of the zoo seeking a replacement penguin as the penguins were still under “warranty.” “Warranty,”as far as I knew, referred to products and things, not to living, sentient, beings!

As an abolitionist vegan, this statements was absolutely shocking, yet to most of the general population, it was completely uncontroversial and acceptable. Of course, it’s only we crazy vegans who would object to the treatment of animals as property and economic resources, right?

Don’t get me wrong. I am horrified at the neglect and appalling conditions that exist at the zoo. However, what I don’t agree with is that making a place of confinement more livable is the answer. As upset as people are with the current state of the zoo, they still visit. Two years ago, a man jumped into the enclosure of a white tiger and was killed in the Delhi zoo. I remember discussing it with a distant relative who defended the concept of zoos, claiming that they played an important role in the conservation of species, as well as the in the education of human children. The fact that animals are considered to be things and are owned by the zoo, makes them disposable. Remember Harambe? Or the baby giraffe killed by the Copenhagen zoo?

The schools my children attend arrange trips to zoos, and every time I refuse to send them, although not for the reasons that some might assume. Even if  the zoos made new enclosures to replace the crumbling, cement ones currently there, the animals who are imprisoned remain prisoners. Animals have moral worth as sentient beings, and that worth means I refuse to visit these places of immoral confinement. I cannot participate in the gawking and amusement of staring at innocent animals who should have been free and in the wild where they belong.

Once again, humans, in their belief that they are superior and as such entitled to own animals, have demonstrated their selfishness. They believe that they should be able to view animals at their own convenience and without having to travel to the animals’ natural habitat. They also believe that their need to do so justifies a life sentence for innocent zoo animals.

Demands for animal welfare, in the aftermath of tragedies that happen at zoos, only provide legitimacy to the concept that it is okay to imprison animals for our amusement and entertainment. There may be some welfarists who believe that they are helping in the short term because abolition is too ambitious a goal and one that is perhaps unattainable in the near future; but they are wrong!

None of us believes that the world will go vegan immediately, but let’s remember that vegan advocacy is something we undertake not for instant gratification but for the animals. They need us to stand firm as we put forward a rational and logical case for veganism and animal rights. The day we stop being afraid of using the word vegan is the day we start making inroads into a world where animal exploitation is accepted without challenge. Veganism is not a dirty word; welfarism is. By falling prey to the welfare mantra we once again ensure the betrayal of the animals we claim to protect.

Be proud, be vegan and make sure that you are heard promoting a clear and strong abolitionist message: a message that says end all animal use, because it’s the right thing to do.

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