I watched a BBC documentary on relocation of white rhinos from a Czech zoo fascinated.

According to this documentary, there are only 4 white rhinos, all till recently in captivity in a Czech zoo. The documentary was about how  preservationists airlifted these four rhinos, two mature adults, a male and a female, and two young ones, a male and a female, back to their homeland in Kenya.

The reason was simple. These rhinos wouldn’t breed in captivity. The natural rhythm of the female attracting the male while in oestrus just didn’t work. The male was 35, pretty old for a rhino, born in Kenya and for some reason brought to a zoo. H weighed some 10 tons and could crush a human without breathing hard. The two young one’s were bred in captivity, but there the cycle stopped.

Experts felt that the absence of space in a zoo had something to do with their reluctance to breed. Unlike humans who seem to be able to make do with any space including closets and toilets for mating, these large mammals are far more discerning and treat reproduction with the respect the act deserves.  The documentary said that elephants and larger primates too behaved similarly.

Finally, the preservationists crated the rhinos and airlifted them to Kenya, and released them in a reserve. The closing shots were of the older and younger ones parting off. The young female who wouldn’t leave her mother’s side was doing a two-step dance with the young male.

As did the documentary commentators, the zoo keepers and the selfless preservationists who risked their lives caring for these rhinos, i too hoped that they would now mate in the expanses of their original home. Hopefully, the endangered species would become less endangered.

To me this documentary raised a more fundamental question.

What gives us the right to enslave animals, birds and reptiles in zoos? What is the purpose?

If it is voyeurism, disguised as an educational activity, it’s outright criminal. It’s as bad as keeping dwarfs and giants in cages so that people can gawk at them for a cent each. If by law, we cannot do this to fellow humans, how can we do it to fellow living beings?

If it’s disguised as an effort to help endangered species and breed them the news is out. They do not like sex in public. They don’t breed in zoos, period. These animals have a far greater probability of reproducing healthily in the African and other forests they come from. All that we need to do is to make these environs safer from poachers and curiosity mongers.

All our fellow living beings deserve this.

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