ISLAMABAD: The change in administration of the Marghazar Zoo does not appear to have brought a halt to the death of its residents, as two more zoo animals have died in the last couple of weeks.

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) recently directed for administrative control of the zoo to be handed over to the Ministry of Climate Change. The zoo was previously looked after by the Metropolitan Corporation Islamabad (MCI).

Sources said that a urial and chingara have died in the last couple of weeks, while a hog dear had a stillbirth.

They said a urial died in its enclosure on July 27, and a chingara died a couple of days ago.

Around 20 animals have died at the zoo in the last few years. Five nilgais mysteriously died between last December and January, and post-mortem reports revealed that they died of poison mixed into their food.

Zoo officials say they are unaware of the death of a urial and a chingara in the last couple of weeks

Sources said zoo staff have also been protesting for the last two days because they have not been paid. They were previously part of the MCI, but the corporation has not released their salaries yet this month.

When contacted, Zoo Director Altaf Hussain Khoro said he had no knowledge of the deaths of the animals in question.

“As per the inventory I have, no new death was reported. I will check again tomorrow,” he said.

Climate Change Joint Secretary Salman Warraich also said he had no update on the deaths. He said he would look into the issue, and confirmed that zoo employees’ salaries have been delayed.

“The MCI was supposed to release the salaries, but they have not released them so far,” he said.

Mr Warraich, the zoo’s authorised officer, said that the ministry has taken many steps to improve the zoo since taking control.

Despite resistance from the MCI, he said, the ministry began working in coordination with civil society, NGOs and the Punjab wildlife department. He said the ministry’s secretary also visited the zoo and issued directions to all those concerned on various issues concerning the zoo animals.

Mr Warraich said he met with the newly appointed zoo director and officials from the zoo, Islamabad Wildlife Management Board and civil society members on July 30.

Four separate committees have also been notified, he said, to improve the condition of the zoo and its animals.

“A committee of three vets has been constituted to carry out medical tests of all the animals along with assessing their nutritional requirements,” he said.

A second committee has been constituted on human resource (HR) and administrative affairs, and is tasked with an HR audit and the placement of duties in two shifts instead the current single shift, which makes it difficult to manage zoo animals after office hours.

The third committee will look after general hygiene in animal enclosures and the zoo’s upkeep, and serve as an interface with civil society. The fourth committee has been constituted to work on media strategy.

Mr Warriach said: “As far as the deaths of the two animals in question, I will seek a report tomorrow. It might be some death took place as the condition of many animals was not good when we took over.”

Mayor Sheikh Anser Aziz said that the MCI’s zoo director who relinquished charge also held additional charge as the drawing and disbursement officer (DDO).

“The DDO’s signature was mandatory, which was the issue. I have appointed a new DDO today to resolve the salaries issue,” he said.

Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2019