ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday held that animals in captivity at the Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad have been kept in conditions that amount to subjecting them to unnecessary pain and suffering and are thus in violation of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1890 and the Wildlife Ordinance of 1979.
“Neither there are adequate facilities nor resources to provide living conditions that would meet the behavioural, social and physiological needs of the animals,” read a verdict authored by Chief Justice Athar Minallah.
While deciding a petition of the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board against the Metropolitan Corporation Islamabad (MCI), the verdict regretted the Kaavan - the zoo’s lone elephant - has been treated cruelly by subjecting him to unimaginable pain and suffering for the past three decades and his continued captivity in the circumstances would expose the authorities to criminal consequences under the relevant laws.
Kaavan was gifted by Sri Lanka in 1985 when he was a year old and for more than 30 years, has been kept chained in a small enclosure, with inappropriate conditions required to meet the physiological, social and behavioural needs of this extraordinary species of living beings.
Court rules that Islamabad zoo’s animals have been kept in conditions that violate Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, Wildlife Ordinance
The pain and suffering of Kaavan must come to an end by relocating him to an appropriate elephant sanctuary, in or outside the country, the verdict held, adding the chairman of the Board of Wildlife Management, constituted under the Wildlife Ordinance of 1979 should forthwith make arrangements, preferably in consultation with and the consent of the High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to relocate Kaavan to a suitable sanctuary within 30 days. The board can seek assistance of experts and international entities or organisations in this regard.
Similarly the board will also relocate all the remaining animals to their respective sanctuaries within 60 days from the date of receiving a certified copy of this judgment, the court said.
The board will also take over the management of the zoo whereas MCI and the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) chief commissioner will assist the board till the animals have been relocated.
The minster in charge of the Ministry of Climate Change and members of the board will jointly be liable for the welfare and wellbeing of each animal till their relocation to their respective sanctuaries, the judgment held.
The board will not keep any new animal in the zoo till a reputable international agency or organisation specialising in matters relating to zoological gardens has certified that the facilities and resources are available to provide for the needs of each species of animals, the judgment said.
The board will inspect any other zoo established in ICT to ascertain the treatment of animals and take measures in accordance with the law.
Likewise the black bear, confiscated by the board will continue to stay in the bear sanctuary because it was in illegal possession in ICT, the judgment said, adding the board will be assisted by the Islamabad chief commissioner and the inspector general of police in order to enforce the provisions of the Wildlife Ordinance.
The board will also ensure and take appropriate measures to enforce the provisions of the relevant laws so that no animal is treated in a manner that subjects it to unnecessary pain and suffering, the verdict observed.
Similarly the federal government will also consider advising the respective provincial governments to include in the curriculum of Islamic Studies religious teachings regarding the importance of taking care of animals, their welfare and wellbeing, and the media may consider informing the public in this regard as well.
The high court also regretted that reportedly “mahouts” have a negative relationship with Kaavan since his food was sold to visitors so that the latter could feed the elephant. The funds generated are not recorded and thus go unaccounted while the health condition of the elephant was also disturbing.
The diet given to Kaavan is also substandard and inadequate to meet its needs, the judgment said, adding this social living being has been kept in isolation since his female companion Saheli’s death at the age of 22 in 2012.
There is also no dispute that animal does not deserves to be subjected to cruel treatment and to separate an elephant from the herd and keep it in isolation is not what has been contemplated by nature, the judgment said.
Like humans, animals also have natural rights which ought to be recognised, the judgment said, and that it was a right of each animal, a living being, to live in an environment that meets its behavioural, social and physiological needs.
Published in Dawn, May 22nd, 2020