Dawn News

Dejection at the Karachi Zoo

Founded 118 years ago, Pakistan’s second oldest zoo in Karachi houses around 450 species of birds, 180 mammals and nearly 200 reptiles. Known before independence as the “Mahatma Gandhi Garden”, the zoo also has a Reptile House, with species such as the Cobra Snake, Python, and the Sand Boa, as well as an aquarium, and a Natural History Museum, comprising stuffed animal bodies and various other items.

Photo by Emaan Thaver

However, from pumas acquired from blacklisted suppliers to a string of recent animal deaths, the Karachi Zoo has developed quite the negative reputation. After an announcement last December that the Zoo would be cleaned and renovated, I decided to see if the KMC has stayed true to their word.

The meagre entrance fee of just Rs.10 makes the zoo a lot more accessible to the general public, but on the other hand, if the zoo intends to make any improvements, funds may be difficult to come by.

Upon entering the premises, the first thing one notices are the leafy trees planted in abundance by the paths. Since the zoo is situated in the heart of Karachi, in the midst of heavy vehicles belting out smoke, it was probably a wise move to ensure a clean supply of air to the animals, whose sensitive systems could respond badly to the smoke and dirt coming from behind the zoo walls.

The cages, bordered by gravel paths are surrounded by sprawling lawns and some of Karachi’s oldest Banyan trees.

During the early hours of the afternoon, when visitors are slowly beginning to trickle in, zoo staff can still be seen along the paths, innovatively using huge palm tree leaves to sweep up dirt, and donkey carts walk up and down the paths, transporting fish to the storage section.

Photo by Emaan Thaver

The walk is quite pleasant, literally a breath of fresh air from our usual city atmosphere. The gardens, surrounded by gates of Mughal-style architecture and sporting species of seasonal flowers and roses, make for an idyllic picnic spot.

However, the closer one gets to the animal exhibits, the more shocking it is, especially for people who have seen captive animals treated with the utmost respect in zoos abroad. When asked where the lion exhibit was, a zoo worker ushered me towards a small cage. Inside, pacing restlessly back and forth, was the king of the jungle.

There was an empty look in his amber eyes, staring dejectedly beyond the bars. His mane was fiery gold in only small patches, the rest coated a grimy grey, matted with tiny pieces of dirt. – Photo by Emaan Thaver

Outlines of bones could clearly be traced on thin legs. He seemed frustrated, stopping his constant march of the concrete-floored cage only to rub his head forlornly against the cage. For his kind are used to long, limitless runs across grassy plains, never bound by ugly grey bars. A lone piece of meat lay stale in a corner near the stained, discolored walls.

The monkey cage was in no better a state. Even tinier than the lions’,  and built to house animals whose relatives in the wild are used to swinging across tree vines, it’s tiled floor was littered with dust and droppings. – Photo by Emaan Thaver

A zoo is meant to house animals in enclosures that resemble their natural habitats. The cramped, smelly cage before me was a far cry from the natural terrain of the Sahara.

Photo by Emaan Thaver

Located further ahead, the Elephant House is one of the main attractions of the zoo. Ever since the death of Anarkali, a 65- year old Bengali elephant, the zoo has filled the empty cages with two new baby elephants.

Under the semicircular sign reading, “Elephant House”, the two small wooden cages house the baby elephants, which are also striding back and forth in their small quarters.

When asked about the size of the cages, the zoo worker in charge of their care gestured vaguely towards a plot nearby, littered with plastic bags, and mumbled something about how the zoo intended to build a bigger enclosure for the elephants, “soon”.

Photo by Emaan Thaver

Most of the animals seemed drowsy and inactive, some merely slumped in the corners of their cages and some, such as the lion and the Bengal Tigers, paced frantically to and fro. Various items, such as sticks and other bits of rubbish could be seen strewn across the cage floors.

Most zoos have strict rules that forbid visitors from throwing objects into the exhibits. The animals usually are on set diets, and the introduction of any foreign items can cause illness or injury to their delicate digestive systems. In fact, it is rumored that the death of one of the fallow deer in March this year was caused by consuming a plastic bag.

Zoos are meant to promote educational opportunities and provide visitors with an insight into the animals’ lives and habitats. The rusted signs hammered onto the cage fronts did little more than tell visitors the species of the animal on display.

There seemed to be no respect for the animals, as visitors could be seen tapping away at cage bars and making loud sounds in attempts to catch the animals’ attention. Zoo officials were not seen anywhere to stop this from happening. Possibly they are unaware of what mental harm this could cause.

Captive animals, being on constant display,  cannot escape from any of these situations and since most of them, such as lions and tigers, have highly developed senses of hearing and smell, they are all the more vulnerable to changes in their environment. But, having no way of escape from noisy crowds, who insist on jeering and taunting them, it only results in the animals becoming stressed and agitated.

Photo by Emaan Thaver

The newly arrived white lions seemed settled enough in their spacious acrylic glass enclosure. However, due to the wide media coverage of their arrival, the zoo seemed to have thought it was wise to show that they, a least, were being treated decently. Their other lion, however, was housed in a tiny concrete cage and clearly suffering. In fact, in August of last year, four newborn lion cubs died due to the zoo staff’s negligence.

If the zoo continues to lose precious endangered species due to sheer carelessness, it is questionable whether the care of these animals should be handed over to another organisation which may be able to give them the treatment they deserve.

If we cannot begin by at least treating fellow human beings right, how can we think of extending the courtesy towards animals? If the zoo does not have the budget to give the animals the treatment they deserve, then it should not accept them. Mahatma Gandhi, after whom the zoo was formerly named, is quoted to have said,

"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged on the way its animals are treated."

The writer is an intern at Dawn.com

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (29) Closed

Jul 31, 2012 10:21am
so sad to read all this
Jul 31, 2012 01:43pm
the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated --- Gandhi
Jul 31, 2012 02:43pm
As unfortunate as the plight of the animals is, it is probably similar in India as well. Hope people on both sides of the border treat animals better especially since we have taken away most of their natural habitat. Having said that, I'm a bit surprised that the name of the zoo was changed after independence. Consider the fact that Mahatma Gandhi was killed because he was always thought of as appeasing Muslims and for fighting for Pakistan's rights. I realize that's not the main purpose of the article but I was wondering why he is thought of poorly.
Aug 01, 2012 02:33pm
It is incumbent on Zoo management and staff to treat animals with respect, dignity and care. Make their cages and habitat a hygienic and liveable place not hell reeling with foul odor, dirt walls, floors and bars. After all they are being caged against their will; something that humans would never want for themselves. Look at their eyes; they are all sad or angry at their imprisonment. It is incumbent we improve their stay there
Aug 01, 2012 10:56am
Oh my God... this is too much worst!!!
Jul 31, 2012 03:44pm
A good article. Visiting Karachi Zoo was one of the most depressing things I have experienced - it is cruel and inhumane. Plus many of the visitors seemed to enjoy tormenting the animals.
Jul 31, 2012 03:49pm
The condition of our zoos and the way we treat our animals is well reflected on our nation as per sayings of Mahatma Gandhi. The condition of our zoos should be shown to public on the TV shows.
Jul 31, 2012 03:53pm
Great article intern. well written article. Great to see quality journalism from across the border while our own newspapers remain fascinated by Sunny Leone and the likes.
Jul 31, 2012 04:39pm
i think world animal rights people has to read this also
Jul 31, 2012 05:06pm
Can this article be sent to WWF and see if they can take some action against this horrible treatment of animals. Ghandi's quote says it all.
Jul 31, 2012 05:28pm
As unfortunate as the plight of the animals is, it is probably similar in India as well. Hope people on both sides of the border treat animals better especially since we have taken away most of their natural habitat. By the way, why did they change the name of the zoo? Mahatma Gandhi was probably the most pro Pakistani human being you could find this side of the border in 1947.
Jul 31, 2012 06:28pm
We saw more Humanity in Australia then in any Muslims country. If a bird was strolling on the road the traffic stoped until the bird decided to fly off.if there was a out cry for help people not only donated but had taken a family home as they had no where else to go. Humanity comes first no one asksv if he is black white or what religion he or she follows. Why would I not give my life for such a great nation, where most well do people are supporting some charity and are always on the look out to help any one who needs help, he may just be on the strret and hurt and number of cars will stop to assist.
Zeeshan Shamsi
Jul 31, 2012 06:31pm
The whole country is a Zoo...with moments of civility...
Jul 31, 2012 08:09pm
Thank you so much for reporting/writing this. We must understand that zoos at the end of the day no matter how well kept are life imprisonments for these animals just for our viewing pleasure. Nothing can justify such cruelty. For those of you who understand that, please join this cause: http://www.facebook.com/pages/People-Against-Zoos...
Jul 31, 2012 08:42pm
Well isn't this how "awam" is being kept in pakistan as well? finally ... we are equal !!!
Aug 01, 2012 12:14am
Humans are lucky that there's no superior intelligence on Earth, else we would all be in a zoo too.
Aug 01, 2012 03:00am
Human and animals alike are ill-treated in Pakistan.
Ibrahim Ghanchi
Aug 01, 2012 03:45am
It is said that" If you want to judge the character of a nation than look at the way they treat Animals"
Aug 01, 2012 04:07am
None would disagree @Zeeshan Shamshi, mighty words
Aug 01, 2012 07:52pm
I am not sure if many of us would like to have the Mahatma's name associated with this crime against nature. He was a great person who loved Muslims. Pakistan, where is our pride?? Is this how we want our Pakistan to be known around the world? It is obvious that we don't care for our poor and the minorities now the helpless God's creatures. What a shame.......
Aug 01, 2012 11:38pm
Pakistani jails and Pakistani zoos...i dont see any difference...except that some of the real criminals do deserve time behind the bars...
Aug 02, 2012 01:30am
I have seen Mumbay Zoo and the condition of animals are worst than Karachi Zoo.The staff at Karachi Zoo are vigilant and animal friendly as compared to any other big zoo in the Asia. It seems to be very easy to blame an organization
S. Shastri
Aug 02, 2012 02:48am
Mahatma Gandhi said that a country's civility can be guaged by how it treats its animals. One would have liked to see charity begin at home at a faster pace. Fortunately there are a few positive signs.
Aug 02, 2012 05:56am
its really sad to know that in such a big city we dont have a zoo for our childrens.Across the world governments support their inheritage and try to improve visitor's locations but in Paksitan situation is on contrary.
Zaheer Arif
Aug 02, 2012 07:44am
Very good work By Emaan Thaver, and so sad to know about poor animals. In Pakistan i think it is normal, this article should do some help for poor animals. I wish to put the authorities in the same cages for at least 10 days. Senseless authorities and senseless are those don't care animals. Very sad very sad but good to see such article may be it will be a little bit of help for poor animals. Lastly the saying of Ghandi is so true and it clearly tells that we are far below than the human level.
Aug 02, 2012 08:13am
So sad to see animals like this !
Mohammad Zaheer Arif
Aug 03, 2012 09:46am
So sad to see this very bad treatment to poor animals, those are there to entertain us. When we will learn that animals also have their rights and that we must respect their rights.???
Mohammad Ali
Aug 05, 2012 04:47pm
i still remember. My Dad,me and my siblings used to go there every month and i mostly used to see those attractive colorful birds especially Parrots of different countries. Those were really great moments, i wish i could renovate those days.
Aug 13, 2012 09:06am