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Harbour porpoise. Image: Charlie Phillips/WDC

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India announces dolphinarium ban

In a highly progressive move for dolphin protection, India’s Central Zoo Authority has issued a circular announcing the decision of India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests not to allow the establishment of dolphinaria in the country and advising state governments across India to reject any such proposals. To demonstrate just how progressive this decision is, the circular notes “cetaceans in general are highly intelligent and sensitive, and various scientists who have researched dolphin behavior have suggested that the unusually high intelligence… means that dolphin should be seen as “non-human persons” and as such should have their own specific rights and is morally unacceptable to keep them captive for entertainment purpose”. This, of course, reflects almost perfectly WDC’s position on these issues, in its now decades of campaigning against the capture of dolphins from wild populations and their incarceration in captive facilities or dolphinaria and the development of a rights agenda for these animals.

In 1998, as documented by WDC in its report on the trade in Black Sea bottlenose dolphins for the aquarium industry, The Dolphin Traders, a dolphinarium established in 1998 near Chennai, displaying dolphins imported from Bulgaria. Within months, all three dolphins had died and, with it, seemingly, died any prospect of other dolphin imports for dolphinaria in India, thanks to Maneka Gandhi, the then Union Party Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment, who had obtained assurance from the Ministry of Commerce that no further imports would be allowed.

All went quiet for a few years, until WDC started hearing rumours about further dolphin display proposals for India and even that state governments were being asked to consider such proposals. In 2010, WDC sent a letter, signed by nearly 100 dolphin scientists, advocates and non-governmental organisations, many from India, calling on the then Minister of Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh, to ban dolphinaria and dolphin imports. WDC has since then worked with scientists, advocates and groups such as Wildlife Protection Society of India, the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations and Humane Society International – India to raise awareness of this issue in the country, meet and correspond with the relevant state and central government authorities and continue to call for legislative change.

It was the determined stance of the Greater Cochin Development Authority to press ahead with its dolphinarium proposal, in spite of advice issued to state governments by the government advisory board the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) not to allow dolphinaria, which prompted WDC to draft another sign on letter to the current Environment Minister, Jayanthi Natarajan. This letter, signed by 60 scientists, advocates and NGOs (including AWBI), landed on her desk just before her announcement in the Hindustan Times on 8th May that dolphinarium proposals for India would be rejected and an official ban would follow shortly.

India has a population of over one billion people. As dolphinaria continue to spring up in countries around the world, WDC feared India’s zoo population would soon be populated with dolphins, similar to the situation in China, which regularly imports wild-caught dolphins from the drive hunts in Japan and wild-caught belugas from Russia. To have this huge country ban dolphin captivity is a major milestone for WDC’s campaigning efforts to protect dolphins from capture and captivity and we very much hope it will set a positive precedent for other countries around the world to follow suit.

About Cathy Williamson

Cathy Williamson was policy manager of our End Captivity Programme until July 2021.