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Peshawar Zoo a death cell for animals

Updated March 17, 2018

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PESHAWAR: Though the Peshawar Zoo, the first in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, was proudly inaugurated by Chief Minister Pervez Khattak on Feb 22 this year, a life full of misery began for the wild yet helpless animals kept there soon afterward.

Some disturbing videos of visitors mistreating the caged animals like lion went viral.

Now in less than a month’s time, some animals have begun dying in the zoo.

Facility lacks expert staff, caring visitors, conducive environment for caged animals

“Life and death is a natural process. Every bird and animal has a physical age. The (dead) monkey had reached its ripe age, while the snow leopard had also reached its maximum recorded age and so, it died. We could do nothing about it,” project director of the Peshawar Zoo Mohammad Ali Shah told Dawn, exonerating himself and others concerned from the blame for recent zoo deaths.

The cold statement came from an official, who had earlier confirmed the death of a snow-leopard, too, in the same way that life and death was a natural process.

These wild animals, who lived for more than 10 years in the wild or national parks, couldn’t survive even for a month in the newly-established zoo - it is not hard to imagine the reason but the official insisted there was nothing serious in the autopsy report or mismanagement issues that caused the deaths.

The wild animals died as they had reached their maximum age, insists the official trying to cover up the fact that snow-leopard died on a day when it was 26 Degree Celsius in an enclosure having no air-conditioning.

“Yes, the wild animals are taking stress in the zoo and this could be a reason but it is just a hypothesis,” said the official trying to look for other explanations for the recent deaths.

A well-placed staff member had quite the contrary story to tell about the death of the monkey.

The monkey that Mr Shah said died of old age had in fact been attacked by the lone wolf put just in next cage to the monkeys.

The monkeys were brought in rather a hurry for the zoo as the provincial government seemed in a rush to inaugurate the zoo as its days of rule are numbered.

As the cage for monkeys was still being built, the monkey who was along with others put up in a cage next to a wolf was brutally injured and succumbed to its injuries, a staffer narrated.

A fallow-deer had died earlier.

A visit to the zoo revealed that the animals, which were known for their agility and beauty with their wilting tails and horns, seemed rather exhausted.

The black buck, spotted deer and the like were lazily huddled together under a shade as there were no trees or natural shade.

From the size of the newly planned saplings, it was sure it was going to be a long hot summer.

The National animal of the country Markhor was seen limping. It had slipped knee a month ago, a nearby staffer said who went on pointing at a deer which had been injured too. The Ostrich in the other corner has injured its wing too. The lion, according to a staffer having injured tail, was kept inside a room –out of sight of the public whereas a lioness looked bored and seemed to have shut herself from her noisy surrounding.

A cheetah (spotted leopard) was also sleeping under a dead tree but nearby the monkeys in the next cage were a bit active and making the lone wolf more anxious who paced restlessly in his enclosure.

An interesting thing was as the enclosure constructed for the elephant awaiting its inmate, who according to a banner was arriving in May this year, was not empty. A pair of desert beasts- camels –was tied in the enclosure.

It is ironic that at times looking at the behavior of the wild animals and the numerous tough-worded warnings pasted on enclosures exposed how human beings were (mis)treating these wild animals. The warnings asked the people not to mistreat the captives or else they would be heavily fined.

There were even images asking visitors not to throw stones at the animals.

The warning exposed the wild side of those who visited along with kids but the wild inmates who looked distressed and depressed- rather misplaced- was not a sight to enjoy.

No doubt zoo is a good place for the young and grown-ups of the city to learn about wild animals and care for them but it seems the Peshawar Zoo lacks caring visitors, expert staff and overall a conducive environment fulfilling needs of each wild animal inmate.

As a staff member confirmed that it was very obvious that the Peshawar Zoo, a project to be completed by 2020, was inaugurated in a hurry for political point-scoring as the next general elections were just around the corner.

The sad part is that it looks like it has all been done at the cost of wild yet innocent animals and birds.

With more than two deaths, the Peshawar Zoo looks no more different from a death cell for the wild animals and birds.

Published in Dawn, March 17th, 2018