Lifestyle Awards 2013
Wellness & Relationship
Let Birds Fly Free
Be Indian, Bark Indian
How Much is that Doggie in the Window?
Elephants in Captivity: a Giant Injustice
Compassion's In Fashion
Global Warming: Less Meat, Less Heat
Imagine being confined to the same room day after day, week after week, year after year. You cannot choose when and what you eat, how you spend your time, whether you have a partner and - if you do - who that partner is.
Imagine never being able to seek out the company of another person, take a walk or decide anything for yourself.
If you can imagine this, you have some idea of how frustrated birds are when they are cooped up in cages.
Just ask John Abraham
A longtime animal supporter, John posed for a PETA print ad with the slogan, "No One Wants to Be Caged: Let Birds Fly Free".
Says John, "I crawled into a human-sized cage to depict the sad plight of birds imprisoned in cages. Birds are born to fly great distances. Keeping them jailed is a cruel thing to do and possibly the worst form of punishment anyone can think of for a bird".
I couldn't have said it better! After all, birds are designed to soar through the sky. They are not meant to sit idly in a cage like living decorations.
Birds are incredibly social animals who are keen to preen each other, fly as a pair or group and share egg-incubation duties.
In the wild, they talk to each other - even taking turns in the conversation like we do!
Flying together in flocks, they are never alone and will cry out frantically for their friends if separated even for a moment.
They play, dance, engage in hide-and-seek and other games and even slide down snowbanks and climb back up over and over again for the sheer joy of it.
Many species mate for life and will not take a second mate if their first is lost.
Birds also grieve as we do: After a car killed the mate of a coucal (a bird species in the cuckoo family), he refused to leave her side or stop trying to revive her.
Showing incredible kindness and loyalty, a robin who crippled his rival in a fight fed him and kept him alive, and pairs of terns lifted up a hurt flockmate by his wings, carrying him to safety.
Did I mention that birds are also smart? Alex, an African grey parrot who was the subject of a 30-year experiment, could identify more than 50 objects, seven colours and many shapes by name.
He also expressed his desires and feelings - including his frustration with the research - reminding us that birds have thoughts, opinions and preferences.
And crows, who are the bravest and brightest birds-- sometimes use tools fashioned from twigs to pick up food.
One crow amazed birdwatchers when she made her own tool by cleverly bending a piece of wire to "hook" a piece of food that she could not reach!
But when they are captured and put into cages, these very same smart, sentient, fun-loving birds become depressed and withdrawn.
Birds suffer severe stress in captivity as their muscles, minds and spirits deteriorate when their only exercise and stimulation is hopping from their perch to the food dish and back.
Many have mood swings, throw temper tantrums and exhibit neurotic or destructive behaviours, such as chewing on carpet and electrical or phone wires, bobbing their heads and pulling out feathers and mutilating themselves, sometimes to the point of death.
If separated from a previous partner, some captive birds become so depressed they pine and grieve. Many have been known to die of a broken heart.
And because wild-caught birds are often frightened, they sometimes nervously nip at their owners, who may never want to handle them again and therefore pass them from person to person or sentence them to a life of solitary confinement in a corner.
What is more, it is criminal to imprison birds in cages! The Wildlife Protection Act 1972 bans the capture and trade of all indigenous birds.
And the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) restricts the trade in foreign birds.
In spite of this, wild birds are robbed from their homes and families in the hilly areas of north and north-eastern India.
Caught in cruel slip nooses and nets, they are crammed into boxes and transported across India or smuggled out of the country.
An estimated 60 per cent die on the way to their destination as a result of injuries, thirst or sheer panic and fright.
Those who survive end up at markets across the country. Even though it is illegal to sell birds, police and wildlife officials commonly accept bribes from sellers.
As a result, 300 of the country's estimated 1,200 species are openly sold everywhere from the Hati Bagan and Crawford markets in Mumbai to the Nakhas market in Lucknow, the Jama Masjid area in Delhi and the Hoga market in Kolkata.
Sounds horrible, right? Luckily, you can be a "flock" star for our feathered friends.
The best way to stop this cruel trade is NEVER to buy birds and discourage others from doing so.
If you or people you know already have birds and are unable to provide them with a full life of companionship, interesting things to do and space to fly, please find out if there is a bird sanctuary or a very large, securely enclosed aviary in which you can safely release the bird.
If you cannot find a reputable sanctuary or aviary, donate the bird to someone trustworthy and kind who has other birds of the same species, allows them to live in a free-flight situation and will never separate them once they have bonded.
Never set a caged bird free on your own. Birds who have been imprisoned for long do not know how to defend themselves in nature and may not even be able to fly.
Contact a local animal welfare organisation, and it will guide you to the closest rehabilitation centre.
And remember: if you would not put your dog on a short chain or your cat in a box, you should not imprison a bird in a cage -
Let Birds Fly Free!
About the author: Ambika Shukla is not an animal 'lover', she is simply a firm believer that animals too have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. She is currently Director Media & Communications, PETA India.
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