ISLAMABAD: The government on Tuesday made the Ministry of Climate Change responsible for Marghazar Zoo.
The zoo was previously the responsibility of the Metropolitan Corporation Islamabad, which is under the Ministry of Interior, but the climate change ministry has spent the last year and a half trying to convince the government it could manage the facility better.
Last February, State Minister for Climate Change Zartaj Gul told a parliamentary body that the zoo was in terrible condition, and exotic animals kept there were dying for want of trained caretakers and handlers.
In July, she compared the zoo to a zoo in Lahore, saying that the Islamabad zoo had an annual budget of Rs110 million and earns just Rs450,000, while the Lahore zoo had an annual budget of Rs130m and generates Rs33m.
She also alleged that the zoo’s caretakers and handlers took home the feed meant for its animals.
Adviser to the Prime Minister on Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam told Dawn the zoo is in need of a lot of improvement.
“We will take Friends of Islamabad on board, which is a group of concerned citizens to bring changes in the day to day affairs and improve the living conditions of animals,” he said.
He added that there are plans to develop standard operating procedures that would focus on cleanliness, care and food for the animals and improve interactions between animals and humans.
Marghazar Zoohas become infamous for the inadequate and poor conditions of animals and the size of their enclosures and for mismanagement over the years.
It is an old zoo and there have been no updates since it was built in the 1970s, said Katie Sipra, a member of the animal welfare and veterinary committee formed last month on orders from the Islamabad High Court.
“In short everything needs to be made better at the Islamabad Zoo. The enclosure for the bear is a cement pit with no grass. Standing and walking on hard surfaces such as concrete can cause foot, joint, muscle and circulatory problems, and overall poor physical fitness. The zoo is missing boundary walls in several places. Wild animals such as boars and jackals sneak in and irritate the animals and eat their food,” Ms Sipra, who was a zoo keeper for years at the St Louis Zoo in the United States, said.
She believed that Islamabad zoo had significant potential with the right people and proper funding.
“Zoos are more than just about bringing animals to people. Islamabad zoo can be a place of education and conservation,” she said.
She added that basic questions needed to be answered such as considering the natural habitat of animals, their eating habits and their activities in the wild.
“The answer to these questions will help you improve enclosures. The key is adding variety and animal enrichment. Animals should be introduced to novel items that they can play with or toss in cinnamon to give them something new to smell. Such initiatives go towards improving animal welfare,” she said.
Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB) Chairman Dr Anis Rehman listed rat infestation as one of the zoo’s major concerns. “Rats and mongoose have dug burrows in bird cages and eat all the food,” he said.
He praised the team of vets that were concerned about the welfare of animals, adding: “This is a golden opportunity to improve the conditions of animals at the Islamabad zoo.”
Published in Dawn, April 15th, 2020