Stop Caging: Wild Is Always Free
Updated: Jul 4, 2021
Can we keep any animal as a pet? Do we always need to be controlled by law? Can morality be the guiding force in deciding if wild creatures could be kept as pets?
Passion for a few translates to a lifetime lockdown for others: Think twice before you buy caged birds. It is illegal and unethical. (Photo: Kedar Gore)
Text: Naveen Pandey
My little kids paused for a while when I had put up a question to them, ‘What do you call truly wild?’.
They narrowed down their thought process to a one-liner and said, ‘whatever is free, it is wild. Freedom makes the wild animals wild’. Then they elaborate on why they thought that the animals in circuses, farms and zoos were not wild for them.
They narrated how some of our extended family members had birds caged for life and turtles confined to narrow tubs. They thought keeping wild animals confined was unethical. I must add here – it is illegal too.
The Indian Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 states, ‘Wildlife includes any animal, bees, butterflies, crustacean, fish and moths; and aquatic or land vegetation which forms part of any habitat.’
All the wildlife in India is protected under Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972. Most exotic pets and species of endangered animals are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). India is a signatory to CITES and thus, exotic animals are also protected on Indian soil. The African grey parrots, colorful macaws, and many other exotic animals that we assume to be pets in India are not allowed to be kept as pets.
I find that people who love animals are often kind, compassionate, and law-abiding. Usually, a lack of awareness of legal provisions to safeguard wild animals may put even well-intending people behind bars. It is not only unethical to confine a wild animal, but it is also illegal to hold, feed, handle, and confine them. Killing, poaching, and illicit wildlife trade do not deserve mention here as we, the animal lovers, are by default designed to be kind.
Have you wondered if the shining beautiful fish at home in your aquarium could be an endangered species? As we cannot identify many protected endangered species of fish, it is best to avoid having them in aquariums. Have we given a thought if we can have parakeets at home? Parakeets are considered to be parrots by the commoner. Our Wild Life Protection Act, 1972 protects parakeets. Let us simplify it. All the birds in Indian forests are protected, and keeping them as pets is illegal. Similarly, all the turtles and tortoises on Indian soil are protected by law, and keeping them as pets could land you in jail. Monkeys and snakes are covered too.
Many such animals, both Indian wild and exotic, small and big, suffer terrible fates before being sold to a potential pet keeper. Many have been caught from the wild, nests have been damaged, some inhumanely bred in confinement, and shipped long distances. Many would die in transit. You would be in for a shock to know that for every living bird reaching the cage in a home, around a dozen birds would perish. Many mammals suffer the same fate. Can we not stop craving to cage on ethical grounds? Do we really need acts or laws?
The exotic pet trade and unrestrained handling of wild species can bring in newer pathogens in contact with us. Many species of pathogens like Salmonella, Staphylococcus, and Pasteurella have been isolated from caged birds. These pathogens do affect human beings and are highly infectious. It is a serious threat to humanity. The recent pandemic, Covid 19, is the most lethal warning of such close encounters. Do we need laws to warn us of our own safety?
If we happen to have any wild animal as a pet due to ignorance, we must inform the nearest office of the forest department and hand over such animals to them. Centuries ago, it was socially acceptable to keep wild animals as pets. It is illegal now. All that is history is not necessarily preserved. Let us change our attitude and be law-abiding. Love birds are cool when they are free!
(Dr Naveen Pandey is a writer, traveler, and conservation medicine professional who helps make lives better for animals and people. He serves The Corbett Foundation as its Deputy Director and Veterinary Advisor in Kaziranga, Assam. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)