Freedom means death

The Delhi High Court ruling may free the animals from the cages of circuses, but will they find a new home?

Published: Monday 15 March 1999

  Big cats facing unemployment last year four lions were rescued from an Indian circus. They were so weak that they could hardly stand or chew food and three lions had gone blind. In January 1999, the Delhi High Court ordered a ban on the display of animals in the circus.

The court was responding to a public interest litigation filed by state social welfare and empowerment minister Maneka Gandhi. She has consistently campaigned for animal rights. She had first proposed the ban in 1991, when she was the environment minister. Gandhi also had plans to build rescue homes for the freed animals, but due to the lack of funds, they could never materialise. The court will give the final hearing on April 28, 1999. But till the fate of the animals is decided, the government will have to pay the circuses a total of Rs 19 lakh per month for their upkeep.

If the judgement is upheld, India will be the first nation to free the circus animals. It would deliver 256 lions, 100 tigers, 22 sloth bears, 12 panthers and 15 monkeys from the circuses operating all over India. But the question is, where will be the new home for the animals be. There are two obvious choices. The forest, from where they were bought to the circuses, or the various zoos of the country. The former has been ruled out as long years of confinement will not allow the animals to survive the new environment and competition from their counterparts. Also, many of them are sick and it is feared that they will pass on their infection to other animals. On the other hand, the zoo authorities have refused to host the circus animals arguing that they do not have enough space or resources to look after animals.

"We have seven lions and six tigers. We cannot get them mixed up with the unknown breeds of circus animals," said B R Sharma, director of the Delhi Zoo to the weekly magazine. The Delhi Zoo is one of the largest of the India's 300 zoos. When contacted by Down To Earth , Sharma said he has also not received any formal intimation from the government regarding the transfer of animals. "We will stick to our stand," said Sharma.

According to additional inspector general forests S C Sharma, "One thing is certain, the conditions in the circus are not congenial for their survival."

If the animals are freed the circus owners are bound to lose their biggest crowd-pullers and in turn a huge part of earnings. Rajiv Gupta, owner of the Asian Circus, was quoted in a news magazine stating that the sweeping ban on animals acts would devastate an industry that employs nearly 20,000 people.

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