Leaping into a quagmire
by Jagath Gunewardana
It is not clear why there should be domestic ownership of wild animals. Similarly, it is a mystery how it came into this draft since the policy does not even implicitly state such a thing since it clearly says in the action column that enabling provisions to the new zoological gardens act is for the establishment of private zoos and for ex-situ conservation. A private zoo has a clear purpose, which is the exhibition of animals to the public for a fee. The domestic ownership of wild animals, on the other hand, is not for this purpose. It may be for several other purposes, none of which would be similar in intent. One person may like to keep animals as pets, another for their beauty, another for social status, yet another for a product (feathers or hair) or even for killing and obtaining meat.
There are some who are under the impression that the domestic ownership of animals, if regulated, may lead to more humane treatment of animals. There are three broad categories of animals that can be kept in homes (or other premises) legally. These are domesticated animals, exotic animals and those that are not protected. The first two do not need a permit, while the keeping of any non-protected species of wild animals has to be done only under a permit issued by the Department of Wildlife Conservation. The human treatment of all these three categories of animals is dealt with under the provisions found in the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance. If there is any deficiency in this law, then the simple solution is to amend it as necessary.
Another point, or rather sub-point of this is that there is no registration of domestic animals at present and thus a new act and provisions are needed to register all domestic animals and exotics held in captivity. This kind of measure, they say, would make monitoring an easy task. There is some face-value merit in this but the practical situation is different. First, there is no need to have a new law to monitor captive wild animals since they require a permit under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance. Thus, the DWLC would have lists of both the owners and animals. This means that a system of registration is needed for the other two categories.
The term domesticated animals is defined under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance. It lists, under Section II, the types of domestic animals such as cattle, pigs, goats, sheep, horses, mules and asses, dogs, cats and poultry. The same definition has been used in this new draft. According to the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance, the definition of an animal (Section II) means any vetebrate or invertebrate animal. Thereafter, it has defined the term wild animal, which is any animal that is not a domestic animal. Thus, the definition of an animal in the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance includes both domestic and wild animals.
If the proposed Central Zoo Authority Act has used the term animal in the same context, then the sections on the domestic ownership of animals would include all domesticated animals. It would mean that the keeping of any domestic animal in a residence would need a permit from the Central Zoo Authority that is intended under the proposed act. If this is so, it will bring about an uncontrollable situation. That is, it will mean that all poultry, even broiler chicken that is kept alive for less than two months have to be registered. This shows the proposed authority getting bogged down on one hand and the animal husbandry industry facing a crisis on the other hand.
The drafters of the Central Zoo Authority Act have surmounted this possible problem in the easiest possible way. That is, by the use of definitions. As mentioned previously, the new draft uses the same definition of a domesticated animal as in the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance. The use of terms (part one) of the draft Central Zoo Authority Act defines an animal to mean any mammal, reptile, amphibian or bird that is not a domestic animal. According to this definition no species of fishes, or any of the multitude of invertebrates, is an animal. It also excludes all domestic animals. Thus, the definition of an animal in the Central Zoo Authority Acts draft covers only a part of the wild animals that are covered by the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance. Furthermore, it does not afford any special protection or rights to these domestic animals as some still erroneously believe. It has totally ignored and by passed the domestic animal keeping from the scope. This part of the draft act looks only at keeping wild animals in houses and other places.
There is a notion that allowing wild animals to be kept in houses is a novel concept, which would help people feel more for animals and help conservation efforts. It is true that the present Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance allows only the keeping of animals that are not protected and they too, only under a permit. But the situation was quite different until this law was last amended by Act No. 49 of 1993. Till this amendment was passed there were only 13 species of mammals and only 8 species of reptiles who were protected. Of the majority of the birds protected there were 25 species partly protected and 14 non-protected species. The partly protected ones can be hunted during what was known as the Open Season. No amphibians, fishers or invertebrates were protected at the time.
The keeping of wild animals was dealt with under the law in a more lenient way. Although protected animals were not meant to be kept in captivity, the minister had the power to make regulations allowing one or more protected species to be kept in captivity, either with or without a permit. This was provided for under the now repealed section 32 of the ordinance. It was also possible to get a permit and capture an elephant and keep it. It was also possible to obtain a licence to take any deer or fowl. According to the provisions at the time, the term deer covered the Sambur, Spotted Deer, Red or Barking Deer and the Mouse Deer. The Hog Deer was removed in 1970.
Similarly, the term fowl included not only the Sri Lanka Jungle fowl and the Sri Lanka Spurfowl, but the Peafowl, Grey Partridge, the Painted Partridge and the Jungle Bush Quail. A person who captures any deer or fowl with a permit could keep them in possession. In the case of non-protected animals, there was no need of any kind of permit to capture or keep them in possession. A permit was needed only if one were to be engaged in the trade of animals and their parts. At no time till 1993, when it was legal to keep most of the animals in homes, was there any special feeling of sympathy, empathy or affinity with such animals that has eroded or vanished during the past decade. Rather, there were more abused wild animals and deaths and also the growing number of threatened species. The amendments to the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance in 1993, coming after a period of 23 years since the last amendment (No 01 of 1970) were meant to address these abuses (both of laws and animals) and to give effective protection in order to ensure their survival. It gave wide and effective powers to not only to the Department of Wildlife Conservation, but to the Forest Department, Police and the Customs. Even this amendment provided preferential treatment to those who were keeping wild animals. Proof of this is found in the proviso clause in Section 49A (1) of the ordinance. It gave a period of three months to apply for and obtain a permit which extended for even these numbers kept in excess of the permitted number.
Another aspect that had been considered is the safety and the well-being of animals. We have seen repeatedly that many animals kept in seemingly good conditions suffer physically and from trauma. It is seen that porcupines exposed to sunlight have gone blind. This is not detected by an average observer since the porcupines rely more on smell and thus this disability is not evident. A good number of Toque Monkeys and Grey Languers suffer from boredom and trauma. They show such extreme behaviour like sulking in a corner and suddenly becoming violent. Most of the animals have to undergo suffering not due to wanton cruelty or negligence, but due to the owners lack of sufficient knowledge about their basic requirements. Unlike in the case of domestic animals, there is no knowledge base on these and the owners were providing food and other requirements on a trial and error basis, little realising that the animals were suffering. The discouragement of keeping wild animals in captivity greatly reduced the suffering they had to undergo.
The proposal to bring back the domestic ownership of animals through the Central Zoo Authority Act or by any other law will only bring back the misery and suffering of animals. In addition it will have a negative impact on conservation efforts by the removal of individuals of threatened species, and only hasten the extinction of some. Contrary to the optimistic expectations of some, there can never be any real monitoring. Even if the whole staff of the National Zoological Gardens are employed to look into the health and well-being of domestically owned animals they will still be understaffed for the task. There is no possibility of relying on the staffs of the Departments of Wildlife Conservation and Forests, since the existing staff of both are insufficient to carry out the present functions. There will be no real difference between the pre-1993 situation and the present proposals and they would bring back the same type of plight to the animals, unfortunate enough to become captives.
|NEWS | FEATURES | OPINION | BUSINESS | EDITORIAL | CARTOON | SPORTS|