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Commercial ventures increasing in capital’s neglected zoo

May 10, 2018

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Zebras laze around on a rough ground while the other picture shows rides installed within the zoo premises. — Photos by Ishaque Chaudhry
Zebras laze around on a rough ground while the other picture shows rides installed within the zoo premises. — Photos by Ishaque Chaudhry

ISLAMABAD: Spread across 25 acres at the foothills of the Margallas, the capital’s only zoo is a shell of its former self, with its cages, pavements and greenery falling into neglect as well as an increase in commercial activities on its premises.

During a visit to Marghazar Zoo, Dawn noticed that the facility was not kept clean and the shelters for several animals, in particularly those for zebras and nilgais, appeared deserted, with pieces of rock lying inside.

Sources said there are 78 officials deployed at the zoo, of which 23 have represented themselves as members of the Capital Development Authority (CDA) union and are not taking any interest in the zoo’s affairs.

Such ventures are not allowed inside the zoo as they disturb animals

The swings installed for children no longer have seats, while the only slide is also in terrible condition.

At the same time, a number of commercial entertainment facilities have been set up inside the zoo even though this is against zoo standards, as such facilities could bother the animals. A large Ferris wheel has already been installed, and digging is underway to set up a pirate ship ride.

“It seems that all the focus is being paid to commercial entertainment facilities. This is a zoo, not an entertainment park, but our officials – in connivance with private contractors – are promoting commercial entertainment facilities here,” said a zoo official who asked not to be named,

There is full-fledged park next to the zoo, and officials said that various vendors have paid bribes in order to sell items inside the zoo as well.

While commercial entertainment ventures flourish inside the zoo, the animals are kept in shabby cages. Ismail Ali, who was visiting the city from Lahore, said he had come to the zoo for the first time.

“The condition in which the animals are kept is highly deplorable,” he said, adding that the shelter for the elephant was not big enough for a large animal.

Zoo conditions for Kavaan, the lone elephant at Marghazar Zoo, have been taken up by animal rights activists at home and abroad because he has no partner and nowhere in his small enclosure where he can take shelter from the sun.

His handler, who had previously been removed for selling the animals’ food but was later restored, allegedly still sells Kaavan’s sugarcane for Rs10 to Rs20 a piece so visitors can feed the elephant.

“The elephant is provided food on the basis of visitors’ payment, not the requirement of the elephant,” a zoo official claimed.

The pair of lions at the zoo are also being kept apart. They were separated by the zoo administration months ago to keep them from mating, as six cubs previously born to the lioness Rani died because, officials said, they could not handle them.

In general, the animals’ enclosures are dilapidated and in need of significant improvement. Over a dozen birds and animals have died at the zoo in the last few years.

The federal government has earmarked Rs100 million for an unapproved project to improve the zoo in the 2018-19 fiscal year.

Zoo acting director Sohail Ghazi could not be approached for comment despite repeated attempts. However, Metropolitan Corporation Islamabad spokesperson Malik Saleem said steps are being taken to improve the zoo.

He said the government had earmarked funds in this regard due to efforts by the mayor and the chief metropolitan officer. He added: “As far as growing commercial activity inside the zoo is concerned, we will check it and illegal activities will be removed, if any.”

Published in Dawn, May 10th, 2018