Zoo and Animal Well-Being During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Among the issues that caught the attention of Malaysians in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic is the case of Zoo Negara Malaysia facing a financial crisis, due to the loss of income caused by the third wave of lockdowns. Zoo Negara’s closure since the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) has made it difficult for it to generate enough income to cover for animal care expenses totaling about RM1 million per month. This has raised concerns for the well-being of the zoo animals. For many, zoo animals are not supposed to be victims of COVID-19.
Humans have kept animals in captivity for centuries, and modern zoos as we know today became popular only in the 18th century. From an Islamic perspective, every animal deserves care and affection. Cruelty towards them are clearly prohibited in Islam. It is narrated by Ibn ‘Umar that: “The Prophet (SAW) said, ‘A woman entered the (hell) fire because of a cat which she had tied, neither giving it food nor setting it free to eat from the vermin of the earth” (Sahih Bukhari, Eng. Trans,. Volume 4, Book 59, No. 3318).
While there are opinions that keeping animals in zoos is inhumane, perhaps we should also look into the importance of zoos and the reason why they were established in the first place. There are three main focus areas of a zoo, that is Conservation, Education and Scientific Research. Living in the zoo, animals are treated with respect and all their needs are attended. Also, zoos are often inspected by governmental institutions and they are subjected to specific regulations under World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA), a Switzerland based organisation, as the highest member body for the world’s zoos. As stated in WAZA’s code of ethics, ‘its members should make all eff orts in their power to encourage substandard zoos and aquariums to improve and reach appropriate standards.’ If it is clear that the funding or the will to improve is not there, WAZA would support the closure of such zoos and aquariums.’
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