In a landmark ruling, India bans dolphinariums, Part One
“The sun was shining. The dolphins were like silver and gold streaks, jumping up out of the ocean, near the boat. They have synchronized movements, and they jumped together, making great arcs in the shape of a bow. Their sheer beauty was amazing. It was beautiful. They’re so innocent. How could anyone mistreat them?”
Dr. Nanditha Krishna recalled seeing dolphins in the wild, in the Andaman Sea, when she was traveling by ship from Singapore back to Chennai, India. She was captivated by them, and it is a memory that has stayed with her. Dr. Nanditha Krishna is the Honorary Director of the CPR Environmental and Education Centre (CPREEC). Dr. Chinny Krishna, who has devoted his life to the wellbeing of animals, serves as the Vice-Chairman of the Animal Welfare Board of India.
Just this month, in an outstanding victory for dolphins, India has banned dolphinariums from being set up anywhere in India. On May 17, 2013, Ms. Jayanthi Natarajan, the Minister of Environment and Forests (MoEF), issued this decisive ban. This means that these beautiful, gentle creatures will not be exploited in India. Dolphins that are held captive in dolphinariums are wild animals who have been taken from their lives of freedom in the oceans to be used for human entertainment. Other countries are likely to follow this forward-looking, compassionate stand.
Mr. B.S. Bonal, Member Secretary of the Central Zoo Authority, in an accompanying statement, expressed the view that dolphins are to be regarded as “non-human persons.”
In accordance with the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, all zoos in India, a category which would include dolphinariums, must obtain advance permission from the Central Zoo Authority before they can be established. Mr. Bonal goes on to state that dolphins are highly intelligent, and that it is morally unacceptable to use them for entertainment; also that they do not survive well in captivity and that they undergo extreme distress when captive. Therefore on all these grounds, the Ministry of Environment and Forests will not allow any dolphinariums in India.
Dr. Nanditha Krishna points out that this document is remarkable in the annals of animal welfare law, in that it makes the case for the ban on dolphinariums based on the vantage point of the animal, and not from a human point of view, and states explicitly that dolphins are “persons.”
Dr. Nanditha Krishna served two three-year terms on the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) and has over the years been in on-going communication with Mr. Bonal and the earlier Member Secretaries of the CZA. When the alarming possibility first surfaced around a year ago of a dolphinarium in Kerala, she wrote to Dr. Tishya Chatterji, the then Secretary of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, and Mr. Bonal. Both replied that the Ministry and the Central Zoo Authority would not give permission for these dolphinariums to be set up. She wrote back that she was very glad to hear that. Mr. Bonal also sent a statement to that effect to the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests in Kerala, telling him to ensure that no dolphinarium came up in Kerala. Finally, in view of the growing demand to ban all dolphinariums, the Central Zoo Authority issued the ban order. This is a bold step forward for freedom for dolphins and other cetaceans.
Earlier, in January, 2013, the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) had issued an advisory, signed by Dr. Kharb, Chairman of the AWBI, much to the same point, strongly opposing the setting up of dolphinariums in India. All performing animals must be registered in advance with the AWBI, and the advisory stated that it will not give any permission for dolphinariums, on the grounds that they violate the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. Furthermore, the AWBI advisory goes on, there is no educational benefit to seeing cetaceans in captivity. This can only “mis-educate” the public into not understanding that dolphins are wild animals that belong in the wild.
In accordance with India’s long history of appreciation and respect for animals, a great many Indian groups and individuals worked very hard to keep dolphinariums out of India.
FIAPO, the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations, along with its partners, Born Free Foundation, Global Green Grants Fund, Earth Island Institute’s Dolphin Project, and Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre, have also been campaigning against allowing dolphinariums into India. They have brought public attention to this issue, holding press conferences in Delhi and in Kerala and were very pleased at the announcement of the ban. Humane Society International has also been actively engaged, non-stop, in fighting against dolphinariums.
It was in the spring of 2012 that the Mayor of Kochi, in Kerala, made the announcement, startling to many, that the city of Kochi was planning to open a dolphinarium. This sparked animal welfare groups throughout India to work diligently on behalf of the dolphins since that moment. This success is the result of the work of everyone who took part.
Continued in Part Two
If you’d like to write to thank Ms. Jayanthi Natarajan for this landmark ruling banning dolphinariums in India, you can write to her at
Ms. Jayanthi Natarajan
Minister of Environment and Forests
Government of India
Top photo: “This file is in the public domain because it was solely created by NASA.” / Wikimedia Commons / “Bottlenose Dolphin – Tursiops truncatus A dolphin surfs the wake of a research boat on the Banana River – near the Kennedy Space Center.”
Second photo: Serguei S. Dukachev / Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.” / “Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin, Tursiops aduncus. Red Sea.”
Third photo: © Caan2gobelow / Dreamstime.com / Spinner Dolphins