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Animals behind bars


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Karachi zoo

A modern zoo serves as a home away from home for animals where every species is provided with an environment close to its natural habitat in the care of well-trained keepers. It is also a place which offers opportunities for human and animal interaction.

This positive change towards wild animals in captivity has made it possible to revive the population of some critically endangered species, at least at the level of the zoo if not in the wild. The success stories include the ones of Arabian oryx, David deer and Przewalski horse.

Unfortunately, state-run zoos in Pakistan, by and large, are still in their initial phases of transition. The conditions at the zoos in general are pathetic and efforts being made for improvement are minimal and far too slow-paced to meet the challenges confronted. Due to a dearth of expertise and funds, animals are forced to live in unnatural conditions. This explains why state-run zoos are often in the news for all the wrong reasons: death and disease.

A case in point is the Karachi Zoological Gardens which has recently seen a number of deaths that included a Bengal tiger, a leopard, a Shetland pony, a nilgai, a red deer and a baboon.

Though zoo officials have made the claim that all these animals were ‘too old’ and it was primarily their ‘old age’ that led to their death, inquiries show that neglect and lack of care contributed to their death.

The leopard, for example, had been deprived of its spacious enclosure specifically meant for big cats and shifted to a cage earlier used to keep hyenas and jackals until only a few months ago.

Sadly, frequent mortalities at the zoo could never bring a significant policy change for improvement, though the facility generates Rs50m to Rs60m revenue every year. Unlike other provinces where public sector facilities for captive animals are run by their respective provincial wildlife departments, facilities for captive animals in the city, two private zoos and the Safari Park, are run by the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC).

The KMC (and the defunct city district government) seems to have a penchant for importing exotic animals as it has spent millions of rupees on their purchase. This year’s new arrivals at the zoo include pumas, Bengal tigers and white lions. However, there is a big question over how these big cats and some other animals have been acquired.

For instance, the KMC hasn’t yet acquired the mandatory no-objection certificate for importing Bengal tigers and white lions, though four months have passed since their import. The NOC, issued by the National Council for Conservation of Wildlife (NCCW), should have been acquired before the import.

It is important to know that the government has never legislated to run facilities for captive animals on scientific lines. There is no official quest to find qualified staff, rather zoo/Safari posts are offered to in-service government employees and one finds sweepers working as keepers.

Given the dismal state of affairs, it is no surprise that facilities for captive animals have failed to serve their purpose in the city. The situation is more or less the same at other facilities in the country, with perhaps a few exceptions.

“Pakistan has a combination of good and bad zoo facilities. In fact, conditions vary within a zoo. But this does not mean that we undermine the role of zoos in encouraging love for animals and inspiring people to help animals. A few decades ago, western zoos were also like menageries. We need to improve ourselves and to be honest, people do talk about animal wellbeing and there is a consciousness amongst civil society today,” says Uzma Khan, Director Biodiversity, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), discussing the justification for zoos.

Khan, one of the few experts in the country on animal behaviour and welfare, believes that city zoos could be improved by reducing the number of species and housing animals in their correct social setting. “Animals need natural surroundings to follow natural instinct which is important for their wellbeing. This way they are more active and interactive which generates public interest. Who wants to see sad and dull animals?” she adds. All captive facilities in Pakistan, according to Khan, have one common problem; untrained keepers. “It’s the root cause of many other problems. Keepers are a low grade and low paid job and most cannot read and write. There is neither organised training nor structured career growth, although opportunities exist but it’s usually not a priority area,” she points out.

Khan also feels very strongly about legislation on zoo standards like other Asian countries while calling for administrative and financial autonomy for captive facilities, which, she says, should be run by a committee of experts.

“The cost of the zoo ticket needs to be increased as the funds generated would be linked to keepers’ training. A zoo must be equipped with basic veterinary equipment, a full time vet and education officer on duty.

“Each exhibit must have relevant signage highlighting the conservation status and information about the animal,” she suggests.

Replying to Dawn’s queries, Bashir Saddozai, director Karachi zoo, admitted that the facility lacks standards and that he does not have the relevant educational and professional background but insisted that he is trying his best to improve conditions at the zoo.

“Right now, the zoo is on top of government priority list and some measures have been taken for zoo’s uplift; for instance, induction of two zoologists and a vet (earlier there was only one of each) and setting up a bookshop which would open soon,” he said, adding that many schools had visited the zoo in recent months on invitation. The government, he said, allocates the same amount of money for the zoo which it earns from it and plans to induct educated keepers.

Among other factors, it is important to have a strong body advocating animal rights in order to push the government to reform captive facilities. An educated and sensitive public is an asset for a society as it could make the government accountable, even for violating animal rights.

Comments (8) Closed

shahche Dec 02, 2012 10:13am
I'm really glad someone decided to highlight the plight of animals trapped in Pakistani zoos. It was once said (loosely worded here) "You can gauge a nation's humanity by how they treat their animals".
gangadin Dec 02, 2012 08:31am
Good article and good subject. Why do we have Zoo's in the first place. They should all be converted into animal hospitals and care for the sick and injured animals and release the healthy ones back to their environment.
natureology Dec 02, 2012 10:46am
Pakistani zoo are in a sad and pathetic state, i have a profound love for animals and am really passionate about saving wildlife in their natural habitats. zoo can be controversial because of animal cruelty and neglect but they sure can save endangered species from extinction (e.g. Arabian oryx and Prezwalski's horse etc ) if adequate financial resources and proper care are given this institutes can flourish for the better education of the public. But as i mentioned that the dire state of Pakistan's zoos i can only say that i have witnessed horror and felt pity on the conditions this poor innocent animals are kept in at least what i saw in Safari Park, Karachi near my home. I never go to zoos again because of the why this animals are kept in hygienic condition and even question the ethics of welfare and ways this protected animals are imported, we can only improve this zoos if the public and private groups stand up to the challenge to do something before an all important institute of science and education would be lost to neglect and corruption.
feeltheplightofanimals Dec 03, 2012 03:17am
Please please someone start a petition to close the zoos in pakistan...esp. karachi zoo...pathetic zoo with an equally pathetic unkind crowds that torture those beautiful animals ... I feel so sad to even think about the life these animals are going through living in karachi zoo...I am crying as I write this...please someone get the zoo closed and have the animals send back to the wilds or to a zoo in a developed country where they can have a better life....developing countries should never have is extremely cruel and sad to see these animals in horrible conditions...i have no hope for these animals if they continue to live the tortured lives they live in karachi zoo...with extremely unkind rogue crowds that visit it....
gangadin Dec 02, 2012 01:56pm
Gandhi said that.
Saeed Dec 02, 2012 06:20pm
I know there will be lot of people with negative comments, but how many of us really work as volunteer donate time and money for this cause . Yes we Pakistani can expand big buck for scarification animal during eid or other occasion, and this is only love of animal we have. Go to the zoo and tell other people to go there buy tickets and expand money on food and drink and stop making complains . This is the little Help we can do for theses animals and there caretakers.
Mushy Dec 02, 2012 04:30pm
Hats off to Dawn for raising voice for the "voiceless"
Animallover Dec 02, 2012 06:15am
Animals are less fortunate beings who are mentally weak,captured by humans and put in the prison called as cage.We want animals in the cage for our entertainment. Putting animals in the cages is showing disrespect to animals by taking away their liberty.But one thing we should all know that animals are taken care of well by the zoo authorities which may not be in the wild.