The voiceless ones

July 12, 2019

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A WORRYING trend of keeping wild animals inside cages and private zoos within homes is reported to be on the rise amongst the wealthiest in the big cities of Pakistan. While frowned upon by animal rights activists, keeping rare animals inside homes seems to have become something of a status symbol (or expensive hobby) with the elite. Photographs and videos of exotic animals for sale — many endangered and some prohibited for trade by international law — are frequently circulated on social media. A recent report published in this paper also pointed to the rise in breeders of exotic animals, who can fetch millions of rupees through a single purchase. In yesterday’s newspaper, three wolves were reported to have been rescued from breeders by Islamabad wildlife authorities. Unfortunately, some owners are too ill equipped to care for animals taken out of their natural habitat; the animals die in their possession from medical complications or insufficient diets. And yet, despite all the risks, maintaining private zoos and breeding exotic animals is entirely legal in all four provinces. Sadly, the status of public zoos does not offer much hope either. Most animals in local zoos are confined to small cages, sometimes lacking companionship, and suffer from physical and mental stresses. Many appear emaciated or have health-related complications due to thepoor quality of food and lack of medical attention. Recently, a video of a limping brown bear at an Islamabad zoo went viral, leading to a social media campaign. An open wound on its back leg could clearly be seen in the short clip.

Increasingly, zoos are seen as cruel and archaic structures, symbolising lifelong suffering for the animals they imprison, and do not belong in the present century. Instead, governments must look towards establishing wildlife parks and reserves that protect and preserve native species, while simultaneously offering employment, and an educational experience to visitors. Animals may not possess the luxury of language, but they certainly do have rights.

Published in Dawn, July 12th, 2019