Zoos in India:
Facts and Legal Regulations

November 13, 2021Lu Shegay


A lot of zoos and those who visit them justify their operation of facilities and visits respectively by claiming that zoos are beneficial for animals in terms of conservation of wildlife species and the increase in their population. However, this is way far from reality and zoos do not serve an educational purpose. Going to a zoo is an easy way for humans to show a wide variety of wild animals that children will unlikely see somewhere in the wild, and so a lot of academic facilities use zoos as an opportunity to show many animals to them, especially given the charismatic megafauna in the zoos. However, zoos on the contrary directly exploit animals by profiting from displaying them to the public. Those people who visit zoos and aquariums/dolphinariums/seaquariums engage in animal exploitation as well.

"Portrait of Giraffe" by Magda Ehlers from Pexels

Why are zoos bad?

Zoos, apart from public display, are also involved in the captive breeding programs that are launched to restore the population of some species. Some of the programs are successful, but it does not justify the operation of facilities that keep animals in captivity. Such a problem should be addressed in a way that the main driver of the loss of the population of animals in the wild is anthropogenic activities that are responsible for habitat loss and habitat degradation. According to the Living Planet Report published by the World Wildlife Fund in 2018, “between 1970 and 2014, humanity has been responsible for wiping out 60 percent of the global wildlife population, which encompasses mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles. This report corroborates that the planet is undergoing its sixth mass extinction, which scientists warn will have grave consequences for humans.”

Zoos are bad for the animals because:

As for the Indian zoos, there have been mysterious deaths, no post-mortems, illegal capturing and housing of animals, manipulation of records, and criminal conspiracy documented in Delhi Zoo. In the years 2016-2017, the zoo had reportedly recorded 325 animal deaths. The examination of records available with the committee, formed in 2017-2018, has brought out “shocking and startling facts, which indicate serious and grave illegal and criminal actions being committed in a concerted manner by the officers and employees of the zoo,” according to the report. The report contained 7 major findings, which were illegal catching of five monitor lizards, protected species of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act; suppression of deaths of several animals and their subsequent replacement with illegally captured animals; etc.

These were just a few cases in one of the biggest zoos in the country located in the capital of India. However, there are so many other cities and small towns that may have no better conditions for the animals with crimes that are hidden or not prosecuted. Since July 2005, PETA investigators have visited more than 30 zoos throughout India and “found appalling neglect, decrepit facilities, and animal suffering on a massive scale. Every facility was seriously deficient in terms of food, drinking water, housing, veterinary care, environmental enrichment, safety, and security.” A number of animals lack food or water, and many of them live in concrete and iron cages that lack enrichment or even a blade of grass. Many animals have also been documented to perform neurotic and abnormal behavior, which includes pacing, head-bobbing, and extreme agitation.

"Close-Up Photo of a Hippopotamus Submerged in Water" by Edwin Lopez from Pexels

Legal Protection

In India, the main legal resource for regulating the protection of animals is the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960 that contains the general anti-cruelty provisions. Specifically, in its Section, the Act prohibits the confinement of animals in a way that does not allow the reasonable opportunity to move or tether the animal for an unreasonable period of time on an unreasonably short or heavy chain.

As for the zoos, Chapter 5 of the Act relates to animals in captivity, which includes those that are exhibited to the public. The Chapter covers only those animals that are used in shows, performances, however, it does not apply to those animals that are kept in zoological gardens or by any society or association, which, by virtue of its main objectives, exhibits animals for the purposes of education or scientific purposes. The provisions require trainers and exhibitors have relevant registration for exercising such practice.

Another legal source is the Wildlife Protection Act of India, which provides that the Central Zoo Authority is obliged to specify minimum standards for zoos, evaluate zoos, and officially recognize them. According to Article 38J of the Act, it is prohibited for visitors to tease, molest, injure, or feed any animal or cause any disturbance to the animals by noise or any other means.

There is also secondary legislation, the Recognition of Zoo Rules, which provide the restrictions on the acquisition of zoo and circus animals and their treatment in captivity and require all enclosures to be designed meeting the full biological requirements of animals, space for free movement, and exercise, and ensuring that groups are not unduly dominated by individuals.

“All zoos are classified under the Rules based on area, the number of visitors and species and animals, especially if the facility hosts endangered species. (Article 9) The Central Zoo Authority will grant recognition with due regard to the interest of protection and conservation of wildlife, and on being satisfied that the standards and norms and other matters specified in the Schedule are met by such zoo. The Schedule contained in the Rules provides for animal health, hygiene, feeding, and prevention of cruelty; veterinary facilities; acquisition and breeding of animals; visitors requirements; etc. All zoos should submit an annual report to the Central Zoo Authority with statistics on the number of animals housed (Article 11). In 2009, the Central Zoo Authority banned the use of elephants in zoos and circuses. However, this ban has not been implemented, since firsthand visits show that elephants are still kept in zoos.”

The established Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) conducts certain activities in relation to the protection of animals and strict regulations for keeping animals in activity. For instance, it officially opposed the establishment of dolphinariums in the country referring to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and the Wildlife Protection Act of India, specifically stating that opening such facilities would be contradictory to these legal resources. Chapter 2, Section 9(b) of the Act provides that Board shall advise the Central Government “on the making of rules under this Act with a view to preventing unnecessary pain or suffering to animals generally, and more particularly when they are being transported from one place to another or when they are used as performing animals or when they are kept in captivity or confinement.”

As for the elephants in captivity in India specifically, AWBI produced the brochure on the Care and Management of elephants in temples. These only have a recommendatory character and are not bound. The guidelines provide recommendations on housing, bathing, grooming, feeding, and transporting elephants. “The document prescribes that captivity requires elephants to be chained, since ‘chains make it easier to fasten an elephant that has bolted or is out of control.’ Nonetheless, the AWBI highlights in its key recommendations that ‘it is ideal that temples do not possess elephants since they will be under tremendous psychic and managemental stress.’ If an elephant is required for rituals, then it is ‘the moral and ethical mandate to provide the required care and management’ and to treat the animal with ‘dignity.’”

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