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Feeling like a caged animal?

Covid-19 has placed most of the human population under lockdown, with some of us experiencing emotions of isolation, stress and grief at being unable to visit loved ones and family. This unsettling time is our chance to reflect and understand the connection we have with our fellow inhabitants of planet earth.

Covid-19 has created a huge awareness of wet markets. In ‘wet markets’ across Asia, stall owners tout their wares of fresh meat, fish, fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices in an open-air setting. Here, all sorts of animals are slaughtered, cut up and sold on the spot. Most ‘wet markets’ do not trade in exotic or wild animals these should not be confused with ‘wildlife markets’.

Wildlife markets provide an outlet for the illegal trade in exotic wildlife, which according to a 2017 Chinese government report was worth more than $73 billion. These animals are taken away from their homes in the wild, parted from their families and, in the worst-case scenarios, babies are taken and their parents killed. Wildlife trafficking can also lead to animals becoming endangered or extinct.

The animals are transported to the wildlife markets where cages of various species are often stacked on top of each other. The animals feel fear, anxiety and distress surrounded by unfamiliar smells and noises. This environment fuels the spread of zoonotic diseases.

The trade-in animals, animals used in factory farming and in laboratories for human gain, often goes unnoticed and behind closed doors and many people are unaware of the ongoing plight of animals confined in these situations.  

Conversely, where we see animals used for human entertainment in zoo’s, aquariums and circuses, sometimes taken from the wild and then living in unfamiliar environments, in general terms, we have become blasé and de-sensitised to the realities of their situation and, to many, seems ’normal’ for them to be in these environments. 

Only now, after being in our own confinement, can we perhaps begin to understand the feelings of being isolated and the anxiety of not being able to see our families, although we are isolated in our own homes at least – a luxury the animals don’t have. In the case of animals in aquariums, they spend their lives in small groups or alone in tiny pools whereas they should be swimming freely in the vast oceans. 

This World Animal Day (October 4) please spare a thought for those animals that endure their own quarantine most days of their lives, in factory farms, laboratories, zoos and aquariums. There are many ways you can help animals in captivity to live a life of freedom, something that should be a fundamental right for every living creature. Here are some simple ways you can help achieve this:

  • Rescue an animal from a shelter – adopt don’t shop
  • Buy products from companies that don't test on animals 
  • Don’t visit a circus or aquarium that uses animals for entertainment.
  • Visit an animal sanctuary instead of a zoo.
  • Try becoming vegan for your health and the animals. 

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Get involved in celebrating World Animal Day this year. Check out the list of suggestions for celebrating during the pandemic.