ISLAMABAD: Both the elephant keepers (mahout) at Marghazar Zoo have been suspended for allegedly stealing food meant for Kavaan, the lone elephant at the zoo, and for quarrelling with a visitor.

According to zoo officials, head mahout Mohammad Bilal and his deputy Mohammad Jalal have been suspended for stealing Kavaan’s food and quarrelling with a visitor.

The suspensions were confirmed by Zoo Director Rana Tahir, who told Dawn: “There were charges of stealing Kavaan’s food and quarrelling with a visitor. We are also going to initiate an inquiry against them.”

Kavaan’s case has been taken up by animal rights activists around the world. Since the death of his partner Saheli in 2012, reportedly due to negligence by zoo staff, Kavaan has been alone and living in a small, three-walled enclosure.

He has been on his own even though various promises have been made to bring another elephant to the zoo.

The Metropolitan Corporation Islamabad, which was given administrative control of the zoo in 2016, and the Capital Development Authority before that announced that a large enclosure would be made for Kavaan, but they did not follow through.

The zoo is not in satisfactory condition overall, with animals such as bears and lions forced to live in small and cemented enclosures. A bear was recently injured on her face and legs and is being treated in a small cage.

Mr Bilal could not be reached for comment despite repeated attempts.

Recently, Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry claimed that chickens meant to feed lions at the zoo were being cooked in the home of the zoo director.

Also on Thursday, the zoo’s management issued feed timings for animals and birds. According to the notification, zebras, nilgai, hog deer, barking deer, urial and blackbuck will be fed green fodder at 9am and grams at 12pm.

Kavaan will be given fruit and bread at 10am and sugarcane at 5pm, while the lions will be given milk at 10am and beef or chicken at 3:30pm.

Mr Tahir said: “We have issued a detailed notification today which is going to uploaded to our social media pages. All animals and birds will be fed in accordance with this notification and the public can observe the entire proceedings whenever they want.”

Published in Dawn, July 5th, 2019