The news that three of the five wolves that escaped from Colchester Zoo have been shot has been greeted by many with sadness. Keepers are described as 'devastated', staff at the zoo are grieving and animal campaigners are protesting. But not me.
I know this will generate howls of backlash and highly charged emotions. And I admit that it will be difficult for people to see me as an animal lover but, I have to say, I welcome the death of those wolves.
I've always maintained that individual freedom transcends all other values and that applies to animals every bit as much as for humans. In saying that, I'm not suggesting that an animal's right to freedom is the same as a human's but I do have this sense that the impetus to be free is natural for all living things. It is also part of being alive and possessing a life- it is instinctive to want to do it 'your way'. That applies to every living being, be it you or I, a hen, a lobster or a wolf. We all possess an innate urge to choose our own paths to happiness. For animals, this means enabling them to fulfill their own natural behaviors and live on their terms, not ours.
But this is not the case for the countless animals shackled by chains or imprisoned behind bars across the world. Zoos, marine parks, animal centres and circuses- they're all the same. Thanks to the commodified animals they hold against their will these places do a roaring trade. Thousands of miles away from their homes the physical and mental suffering these wretched creatures endure and the cost of their freedom is covered at the turn stile. While indeed you cannot buy freedom you can pay for it with a £13.99 ticket to Colchester Zoo (£13.30 if you buy it online). The spectacle of apathetic and humiliated beings makes a spectacular day out for all the family. The pacing, rocking and compulsive hair plucking routinely on display is camouflaged against authentic theme gardens (they usually come complete with train rides for the 'full immersion' experience) and loudspeaker announcements that cajole visitors to watch the sea lions perform or the elephants at feeding time. Listless broken spirits press their soulless bodies against a kink in the bars to feel a cool breeze in air in which the only smell is that of old faeces and urine while passersby walk on by in pursuit of fast food outlets to cash in meal-deal vouchers.
To me, no matter how much zoos tout their mantras of 'conservation' on signs festooned across reinforced six foot barbed wire fencing and no matter what a fine job of 'educating' our children they insist goes on inside locked cages of steel bars, they symbolize captivity. A prison is no life for a wolf that longs to roam, hunt in packs, choose where to make his den and defend his family.
And so on an otherwise unremarkable cold winter day in Colchester five wolves made a break for their freedom.
The news that demonstrators held a protest outside Colchester Zoo demanding answers to why these wolves were shot dead I have to confess makes me want to demand a few answers of my own too. I am suspicious of a certain type of animal campaigner who sticks rigidly to a narrow set of entrenched beliefs that fly in the face of the interests of the very animals they are meant to be defending. Theirs is a movement that seems to stand for an animal's right to life come hell or high water and I see those who clamor that an animal should be kept alive at any cost as, at times, doggedly cruel.
The biggest lesson I have learnt as an animal lover was one my pet rabbit taught me at the age of six. I remember pleading through sobs to save this ancient, buck toothed lop eared bunny who'd already had far more than his nine lives, if rabbits have that many. But it was all about my wishes and not Snowy's. Owners of any pet will come to know when it is in the best interests of the animal to bring its life to an end, and that continuing the suffering is too much to put the poor creature through, even if it means it makes us cry.
Not to want to see these wolves dead is ultimately to want to see them returned to captivity and a life sentence of imprisonment. Those protestors are as guilty of animal cruelty as the zoo keepers themselves who exploit animals for human pleasure in the first place. The only difference is they've become the ones that are keeping them imprisoned and denying them the most basic freedom of all and that is the freedom to quit.
And so to the former wolves of Colchester Zoo who now lie as dead as a dodo with a bullet hole through their heads: freedom is worth dying for.