Convert the Mumbai Zoo into a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centre

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To,
 
Shri Aditya Thackrey,
Minister for the Environment,
Department of Environment and Climate Change,
Government of Maharashtra.
 
Dear Sir,
 
Subject – A request to convert the Jijamata Udyan/ Mumbai zoo into a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centre. 
 
First, allow me to congratulate you on conserving Aarey. It is a truly monumental decision. As an advocate for the animals and the environment, thank you!
 
I believe you credited a leopardess, Luna, who inspired you to protect her home. I have realized over the years, that animals speak but only a few of us care to listen. And that is why I am writing to you about the Mumbai Zoo. I am not sending this letter to you in my capacity as a lawyer but merely as one compassionate citizen to another.
 
Through the lockdown, many of us have experienced unprecedented loneliness. Not being able to see or hug our friends and family has had a huge impact on our mental health. In fact, psychologists have expressed concern and are constantly sharing tips for how we can engage with our community without endangering our health. Animals are the same. They also love their friends and families just as we do. Animals also require social interaction as much as human beings do. A lack of social interaction impacts them as well and can cause depression in them.  Lions live in a pride, giraffes in towers, wolves in packs and elephants in herds. Most animal groups are based on familial relationships. So like us, humans, they too, live with their families.
 
I believe (from media reports) the Mumbai Zoo is going to have giraffes, zebras, cheetahs, lemurs, ostriches, kangaroos, lions, tigers and jackal. I understand that their enclosures will have everything an enclosure can possibly have and that you will take all welfare measures but a cage is still a cage and does not compare to being free in the wild. The expanse of the forest cannot be compared to an enclosure. In the lockdown, we cooked at home we worked out at home but we still missed having tea on a street corner with our friends and taking a walk in a community park. Like us, animals value living in communities and interacting with one another in their own unique way. I understand that enclosures will have two or three or perhaps even four animals but that does not compare to life in the wild in which animals mate and chose the partners they want from a diverse pool. Many of the animals who we will be importing or bringing from other states would have been bred in captivity but is that a circle you, as a compassionate person, want to perpetuate.
 
Animal sentience has now been proved beyond doubt. On July 7, 2012, a prominent international group of scientists gathered at The University of Cambridge and said that research has now shown that animals are in fact sentient and should be treated as such. I don’t know why it took such a large group of scientists to prove what any child looking into an animal's eyes can understand but I guess this declaration quietened any views to the contrary.
 
 
Zoos do not educate children. In a zoo, a child sees a lifeless, sad and depressed animal who is no longer living but only existing. Airing a documentary on the forests of the world can teach children far more about the natural world than one lifeless animal confined against their wishes.
 
Even now Mr.Thackrey, you can convert the Mumbai zoo into a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centre. My suggestion instead of a zoo is to have – a centre to breed endangered animals who can then be released and repopulate the wild, a small hospital for urban wildlife, an education centre for adults and children to learn about the natural world. All of this can be devised and executed under your leadership. The entire animal welfare and wildlife community will help you in executing this vision. This centre can attract tourists from all corners of the world and be a hub to study the conservation of wildlife in India. 

To execute a vision that is so futuristic that focuses on the welfare of the natural world requires an understanding beyond what we are taught in school. I think you have that understanding and so I am making this appeal to you to stop the zoo expansion and convert it into the world’s only urban centre for wildlife. A project that will ensure that generations will remember you as someone who said caging animals for human beings entertainment is not just but we can learn about them in better and more meaningful ways.
 
I hope that you read this letter and that it strikes a chord.
 
Thanking you,

Ambika Hiranandani