Home » Social Sector » From Pope Francis' tiger cub to Rio Olympics' jaguar, how long will we mistreat animals for amusement?

From Pope Francis' tiger cub to Rio Olympics' jaguar, how long will we mistreat animals for amusement?

Salma Rehman | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:48 IST

It was not too long ago when print and online media were splashed with photos of Pope Francis petting a 6-month-old tiger cub. Many were amused to see a rather hesitant Francis trying to reach out to the cub - a part of a travelling circus. The cub initially accepted a caress from the Pope before jumping back and giving him an uneasy stare.

During the ceremony - held to mark the Jubilee for Circus and Travelling Show People - the Pope thanked the traveling performers for having opened their shows "to the most needy, the poor and the homeless, prisoners and disadvantaged kids."

While many applauded the Pope's speech, some took to social media to criticise his act.

" Very sad to see Pope Francis petting a tiger. Animals are not here for entertainment," tweeted @martaghermandi.

"Pope should set a better example and NOT encourage tigers to be used in travelling shows and circuses," read a tweet from Save Wild Tigers.

The Pope posing with what appears to be a tiger who has been enslaved and paraded around for the entertainment of people should have been criticised. But save for a few social media posts condemning the act, everyone else dismissed it as a non-issue.

Enslaving the wild

Experts have warned that animals in captivity are often faced with challenges that evolution has not prepared them for. "The restriction of movement, training using negative reinforcement techniques, being trained to preform unnatural behaviours or making modifications to the normal physiology of animals to reduce risks when handling, can cause severe and lasting distress," reads a study on BornFree - an organisation working to keep animals in the wild.

The killing of the Brazilian Jaguar Juma at the Olympic torch ceremony on 21 June raised a number of questions about the maltreatment of animals - who are often paraded around as trophies or exhibits during events and ceremonies or for that matter at zoos or circuses.

Jaguar Juma at the ceremony before she was shot dead. (Youtube)

The military - which operates the zoo where the 17-year-old Juma was kept - said that the killing was necessary to protect the team that was trying to recapture her. But it could have been avoided if the animal, which is on the list of near-threatened species, was not brought to the ceremony at all.

Animals not exhibits

Despite countless animal rights activists and organisations working tirelessly for the cause around the world, circuses continue to thrive on animal torture.Zoos around the world, once considered to be a safe space for wildlife conservation, are riddled in controversies.

The killing of Harambe, a gorilla born in captivity at the US' Cincinnati Zoo and the culling of two lions at Santiago's Metropolitan Zoo in Chile, a week later, are stark reminders.Many zoos claim that they exist to help protect endangered species.

But the fact remains that most animals in zoos aren't endangered. And the ones who are will never be released into natural habitats.There have been cases where animals have been poisoned, starved, denied veterinary care and have even been burned alive. Some have died after eating trash that was thrown into their cages. When natural disasters strike, they are left to fend for themselves - like the recent flooding incident at Georgia's Tbilisi zoo.

Setting examples

The local Rio 2016 organising committee has apologised for the killing of the jaguar. On the other hand, the Pope meeting the tiger cub may not have ended on such a happy note. Either of them could have been left injured or dead.

However, what went unnoticed was the trauma the little tiger cub must have gone through when he was paraded around in front of tens of thousands of spectators.

The time is ripe for a conversation about accountability and the responsibility that entities like the Pope and the Rio Olympic association need to imbibe. The voices against animal abuse need to be strengthened with support from all the quarters. Every step counts.

Edited by- Blassy Boben

First published: 23 June 2016, 9:07 IST