As a six-year-old obsessed and fascinated with the wild, I remember asking my mother once: “How do tigers protect the environment?”
She said, “They keep the poachers and tree-cutters away. The more the tigers, the less the deforestation.”
We all remember the plight of a lion in Dhaka zoo. The image of its debilitated condition made rounds on social media, pulling our eyes out to focus on an important issue—the plight of captive animals. The four-year-old lion, Heera, hasn’t apparently eaten anything for days.
As per the experts, the zoo is in urgent need of restructuring in every sector. Experts say that animals’ mental health is as important as their physical health. They sometimes don’t eat or act natural when under strain. Although restructuring of the zoo is a temporary means of relief, it certainly isn’t a permanent solution. The permanent solution would definitely be freeing the animals, rehabilitating them.
Surely, animals don’t deserve to rot in prison cells while the visitors take great interest in their movements, while the zookeepers steal their food and make them starve to fill the zookeepers’ own stomachs (as seen in a video report by Somoy TV). They don’t deserve to get plucked out of their original habitats to be put inside cages for entertainment and education. Any entertainment that causes severe damage to the environment and our fellow living beings isn’t entertainment. Any education that causes captivity of free beings isn’t education.
Both can be achieved by other means, but by enslavement of animals.
In this fiery, CO2-choked age that is hurtling towards a climate catastrophe, we need to give importance to the concept of banning zoos and rewilding instead. Because that is one of the many radical ways we can try to recover this damaged planet of ours.
In a TED talk, an acclaimed journalist of The Guardian, George Monbiot, sings praises of the term “rewilding”. He presents before the audience remarkable impacts that “rewilding” has had on the environment. For instance, in Yellowstone Park, California, as the number of deer ramped up greatly (since there were no animals to hunt them), the grasslands and vegetation kept on disappearing. The residents around the park were unable to control the herds of unstoppable deer.
However, when wolves were reintroduced in the park in 1995, things changed. The wolves fed on the deer and the deer grew cautious. They became aware of areas to avoid where the fear of wolves lurked. As a result, vegetation started mushrooming in many parts of the park significantly. Grazed lands became thick with greenery. Common birds, migratory birds were attracted by the foliage. They started moving in in great numbers. Vultures, hawks, birds of prey, bears rushed in to feast on the carcasses left by the wolves. They increased in numbers. The soil’s retention capacity became powerful because of the newly emerged trees. Their roots strengthened the soil, reducing soil erosions, causing the rivers to “meander less” and flow smoothly.
All because of the wolves that had been absent in the area for almost 70 years.
The Yellowstone Park is a marvellous example of how certain species can send huge waves of change in an ecosystem. It is also an eye-opening example of how natural troubles can be dealt with natural measures. How “rewilding” can invite massive advantages to our planet.
So, as the dead zones keep increasing in our rivers, poachers keep roaming the forests instead of animals, rivers keep dying, massive chunks of soil keep eroding due to lack of healthy vegetation, and animals keep being put and starved inside prisons, the concerned authorities need to take radical actions, not only on pen and paper.
They can start by banning zoos and rehabilitating wild animals where they truly belong—the forests.
To guard the forests from poachers, skilled, non-corrupt forest rangers should be appointed. The locals should be encouraged to receive thorough training and take up the jobs of forest rangers. That would ensure both the animals’ safety and a sustainable livelihood for the locals.
Private/government companies shouldn’t be allowed to infiltrate the forest areas. The authorities should ensure that they maintain the distance that’s required to avoid disturbances in the animals’ environment.
The government should allot a healthy amount of budget towards funding animal conservation projects. It should also stint the growth of companies and give importance to afforestation, which is the only thing that matters in the long run.
When we start rehabilitating the wild animals, there will be hopes of certain ecological systems waking from the deep slumber of despair. The vegetation in certain areas will increase since animals like elephants, turtles, and pangolins play major roles in preserving the flora by scattering seeds through defecation and roaming. Apex predators like tigers and leopards will keep the number of other species in control, reducing over-grazing of forests. Birds will start coming in. The number of animals will become healthily balanced. There will be more carbon-trappers (that we desperately need at the moment), more torrential rainfalls due to increased vegetation, less river erosions, less poaching.
In the face of new pollution-causing companies’ birth near the Sundarbans (and its removal from the Unesco World Heritage List), the authorities must take effective steps. They should relocate the companies or simply ban them. After all, if the Sundarbans collapse, its surrounding areas will be swallowed by strong floods and cyclonic surges that the forests quell. Same is applicable for other parts of the country.
Companies can wait. Our dying climate cannot. We have had enough of those. We don’t want our so-called development to contradict itself. No development is a development when it harms the earth.
Without animals, the forests won’t survive. Without forests, carbon-dioxide and the temperature will increase, and the rivers will die. Without rivers, the soil will grow barren, and livelihoods will face uncertainty.
Rewilding is necessary now, more than ever. Zoos are not.
Shah Tazrian Ashrafi writes for The Daily Star.