Indian animal welfare officials moved this week to block plans to put performing dolphins on display at theme parks and malls across the country, saying it would violate federal laws about cruelty to animals.
At least five dolphin park proposals have been floated in recent years by businesses and local governments, with the plans aimed at providing India’s increasingly affluent middle class with a new and exotic form of entertainment.
In a letter Monday the Animal Welfare Board of India directed state governments and wildlife wardens to block any efforts to capture or transport dolphins, or to keep dolphins, porpoises or whales in captivity. The board ruled that dolphin shows and exhibits would violate the 1960 Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.
“All types of studies have shown that these animals, after capture, are under a very high level of stress,” said S. Chinny Krishna, the board’s vice-chairman, in a telephone interview. “A wild animal belongs in the wild. That’s why they’re called wild animals – these are not domestic animals.”
Mr. Krishna said dolphin exhibits are “purely for making money” and that they serve “no educational purpose.”
Backers of the proposed new dolphin parks in India deny that their projects would inflict cruelty on their star attractions. Rather, they argue that they would help educate the public about wildlife.
“It is not cruel,” said N. Venugopal, chairman of the Greater Cochin Development Authority, which wants to build a dolphin park in the southwestern state of Kerala. “People will be entertained.”
Other parks are planned in Mumbai and near Delhi, according to local news reports.
Indian animal welfare activists who had lobbied the board to block dolphin exhibits welcomed Monday’s letter.
The country dabbled with captive dolphins once, but with disastrous results. In early 1998, a small pod was brought into the Dolphin City amusement park near Chennai, but within six months all of the dolphins were dead. Activists accused the park of failing to provide them with needed medical care.
The activists say there are now no captive dolphins on display at zoos or other attractions in India, and that the Animal Welfare Board’s ruling would help keep it that way.
“We’re taking big strides forward in being the most compassionate nation on Earth,” said Arpan Sharma, chief executive of the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations.
Rhinos and tigers in India’s wildlife parks are under constant threat from poachers, as wild animals are in many parts of the world. But India often shows more tolerance for semi-wild animals who live near or in the same area as humans than many other countries. Packs of wild dogs roam city streets at night, without fear of being culled, for example, and groups of monkeys live in wealthy neighborhoods and on government buildings.
“We have a very active animal welfare community,” Mr. Sharma said.
The board serves as an official adviser to the government and it does not have any enforcement powers. But Mr. Sharma said he was confident that the ruling would eventually help kill off the proposals to exhibit dolphins in India.
“The Animal Welfare Board is not promulgating any new legislation,” Mr. Sharma said. “All it is doing is informing the states that dolphinaria [dolphin parks] are in violation of the existing laws of the land.”
Mr. Venugopal, however, said he was hopeful that the Greater Cochin Development Authority could find a way to legally move forward with its proposed dolphin park. Mr. Sharma said animal welfare groups would use Monday’s ruling to fight such efforts in court.
Monday’s ruling was the latest in a string of such decrees and laws to be issued worldwide. Similar restrictions have been imposed by the United Kingdom, Chile and Brazil. Other countries have outlawed the capture, import and export of dolphins.