KARACHI, May 20: As the government silence over the actual status of the ‘gifted’ chimpanzees at the Safari Park persists and there seems to be no willingness at any level that an investigation into the case would be conducted, the chimps with other animals are forced to live in harsh conditions at the facility, it has emerged.
This seemed more ironic given the fact that though the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation, which runs two zoos and the Safari Park, aimed to spend a lot of money on repair, renovation and construction of new facilities at the Safari Park in the coming months, its focus was not on the wellbeing of animals housed in the facility.
Reportedly, a major portion of the Rs80 million project would directly or indirectly benefit visitors and the government, which would earn an income by charging fees for different recreational facilities.
The only worthwhile project from the point of view of animals’ wellbeing is an enclosure for two elephants, which is expected to be completed in the coming months at a cost of Rs20 million. The enclosure, it is claimed, will have a swimming pool and animals will be provided with a free environment.
A recent visit to the Safari Park showed that the chimp pair, which officials claimed was ‘gifted’ to the park two months ago, was confined to a cage with a concrete floor. The obviously thirsty animals were unable to protect themselves from the scorching sun.
Alongside, a few rabbits, parrots and peacocks were kept in other cages. A lone eagle perched on a piece of wood looked distressed. As it seemed to be the case with many animals at the Safari Park, the large powerful bird, according to sources, was also ‘gifted’ by someone more than a year ago. The same was the case with a pair of crocodiles that could hardly dip themselves in a small shallow pond provided to them in their cage.
Crocodiles and eagles are protected species under the Sindh wildlife rules and cannot be gifted or traded in without a permit from the Sindh wildlife department.
The enclosures of deer species, camels, horses, llamas, who appeared fewer than they were seen during the past visits, lacked trees and grazing areas. All animals were visibly in bad shape. The two elephants that now have grown up to the extent that they could barely fit in their small thatched rooms were found chained. They have been in the quarantine since their arrival in the city more than two years ago.
The Safari Park had no guide and the administration had no immediate plans to invest in the training of the staff, most of whom were sweepers, gardeners or chowkidars.
Speaking to Dawn, Safari Park director Salman Shamsi, who had remained associated with the horticultural department for a long time before his current posting, said that he couldn’t comment on the chimps’ issue as the ‘donation’ was made to the KMC administrator.
To a question as to why animals were caged instead of giving them a free environment, he said that he was making use of the facilities available at the park.
“You are right in a way, but we need to make use of what we have at the park. Since I have joined the Safari a few months ago, I am trying my best to improve the facilities here,” he said, adding that his staff had tried to cover the chimps’ cage in order to protect them from direct sunlight but every time the animals managed to remove whatever was placed on the grill.
He claimed that a keeper posted at the cage did take care of their drinking water needs.
“The elephants have been chained for a long time and now they have got used to it. I don’t know where the eagle had come from but it’s the Safari’s property now. Besides, visitors come and enjoy looking at different species,” he replied when requested to release the lone eagle in its habitat.
Regarding the project details, he said that the Safari Park would now have a proper boundary wall to protect the area from encroachment, new plantation, lawns, walkways and benches, an area dedicated to children’s entertainment as well as an entire facility where they could watch birds in close contact.
“We are planning to bring more animals and induct guides,” he said, while praising the governor and the KMC administrator who, he said, took personal interest and made the funds available.
‘Chimps be handed over to orphanage’
The Safari Park administration had accepted a ‘donation’ of a pair of chimpanzees — an endangered species listed in the appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) without seeking information about the conservation status of the species and without looking into the donor’s credentials.
Trading in endangered animals is strictly restricted under the relevant international laws and an import permit could be issued only to a government-run facility for wild species. The fact that no licence has been issued for import of chimpanzees over the past 10 years by the National Council for Conservation of Wildlife creates serious doubts over the ‘donation’.
Upon contact, Dr A.A.Qureshi, founder of the Karachi Zoological Gardens and Safari Park, said that animals needed to be handed over to an international orphanage for chimps in order to discourage wildlife trafficking.
“There are orphanages exclusively for chimps abroad and these animals need to be handed over to one such facility. Here, they are deprived of their natural habitat and they won’t breed,” he observed.
A pair of chimps at the Karachi Zoological Gardens hadn’t bred, though they had been at the facility for almost 10 years.
The Sindh wildlife department hadn’t contacted the Safari Park administration so far over the chimps’ affair.
KMC Administrator Mohammad Hussain Syed, who had earlier stated to the media that he might return the chimps to the ‘donor’ after he came to know about the international sensitivities attached to the animals, was not available for comments.