LAHORE: A video of a bear shaking his head side-to-side and pacing around inside a cage that surfaced a few days ago on social media, causing concern among animal rights activists, was of the Bahria Orchard, a housing scheme which has its own zoo, it transpired.
On Monday, actor Shaan Shahid took to Twitter and called out the Bahria Town administration, specifically Malik Riaz.
“Special Request to #MalikRiaz owner Bahria town. Kindly close Down all your ZOOs as animals are being treated very badly. It is a humble request to either take notice or send them back to their natural habitat. As kindness towards animals is a part of our faith as well (sic),” he tweeted and urged the people to share the tweet further so that the message reached “the people who could do something for the freedom of these animals”.
Many other animal rights activists had also shared the video clip and expressed their concerns about the well-being of the animal.
Experts say bears are considered intelligent animals, which must be given toys or other stimuli, especially under captivity; otherwise, they develop zoochosis, a repetitive behaviour pattern showing mental disturbance.
Tanveer Janjua from the Punjab Wildlife and Parks Department said they had already informed the Bahria administration to add stimuli for the bear and once it displayed normal behaviour, a mate could be brought in too.
Mr Janjua said whoever made the video had not shown the other side of the cage, which had food, water as well as a shed.
“All other SOPs were being followed,” he says. “How can an animal survive without water in this weather?”
He said a committee had been formed with Changa Manga and Jallo Park vets, the assistant director of Lahore Division and himself to monitor the status of the bear. The Bahria administration, he said, had readily accepted the new directions and stimuli were being brought in slowly.
However, a lawyer, who desired anonymity, said this kind of ownership of wild animals was disturbing to say the least.
“They may not be trafficked but were mostly legally brought in with the permission of the Ministry of Climate Change. The Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species aims at implementing international laws, protecting animals. But to attain a licence is so easy.
Once the animal is here, it is the province that is responsible [for its well-being] with wildlife department monitoring it, but such situations are exploited,” the lawyer added.
Activist Altamash Saeed has filed a petition with the Lahore High Court against the Lahore Zoo itself as it seeks to end the concept of ‘zoos’. However, the case is still pending.
Another lawyer, who did not want to be named, said it was easy to get a licence but enforcement of the law was a different story.
But Janjua insisted that zoos could be ‘educational’ even though they are not natural habitat.
“We have currently given Bahria Orchard 10 days and they have begun with provision of tyres and swings [for the enclosure],” he said. But he admitted all captive animals were depressed. “It is true that zoos must end,” he added.
A team of wildlife department visited the Bahria Orchard zoo on Monday to inspect the condition of the bear.
“A team comprising Officials and Vets of the Wildlife Department along with various animal rights activists visited the Bahria Orchid Wildlife Breeding Farm. Necessary inspection of the animal enclosure and animal health was carried out.
“The black bear was healthy, well fed, with adequate supply of water. The administration was advised to ensure pairing and enclosure enrichment by providing swinging platform, hanging tyres, wooden blocks etc. The administration ensured to follow all the SOPs,” the department claimed on its official Twitter handle.
A source in the Bahria Town administration, on condition of anonymity, said the animal was doing perfectly fine and that the swings and other stimulants had been added to its enclosure.
He also said that the bear’s enclosure was being expanded as well. “We have done a favour by saving this bear actually,” says the person.
“It was being used by a ‘madari’ as a dancing bear and being paraded around in the heat and not even given enough to eat. We brought it here, fed it with milk, and now it is happy and plays too.”
An animal rights’ activist, Ayeza Haider, confirmed that the bear seemed relaxed. She said earlier it had been showing signs of boredom, but even then the video that went viral did not show the whole picture.
“There are two enclosures [for the bear] and it was in the smaller one, so that they [zoo staff] could enter from the other side and feed it,” she said. “We discovered that it was short of cage enrichment - which is already being done by the admin, and after this we will ease in a mate from the other Bahria Zoo. Finally, we hope to request the admin to move the animals to a wildlife sanctuary closer to their habitat.”
She added that the zoo did not have too many animals. It had deer, ducks, and flamingos and these animals and birds were also breeding which was a sign of contentment. “There are lions too which are healthy and groomed. We just want cage enrichment and monitoring.”
Published in Dawn, July 9th, 2020