Home of a wild animal is its natural habitat, IHC’s detailed order says

Updated 20 Jul 2020

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IWMB to submit weekly report on formalities relating to Kaavan’s move. — Photo by Khurram Amin/File
IWMB to submit weekly report on formalities relating to Kaavan’s move. — Photo by Khurram Amin/File

ISLAMABAD: The home of a wild animal is its natural habitat and not a zoo, says a detailed order of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on the relocation of animals confined in Marghazar Zoo.

IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah issued the detailed order after disposing of a petition seeking contempt proceedings against officials from the Ministry of Climate Change and the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB) after they gave an undertaking that the zoo’s lone elephant, Kaavan, would be moved to a Cambodian wildlife sanctuary.

“The practice of capturing animals and keeping them in captivity is a relic of the past. It is a deplorable reflection of the treatment of living beings at the hands of another living species i.e humans. Exotic animals were collected and kept in captivity by the kings, queens and other nobility as a display of their power and might,” the court order said, adding: “The subjugation of wild exotic animals by another living species, possessing superior faculties and attributes, had become a symbol of power and superiority.”

According to the court order, a wild animal may be kept in custody to protect human life.

Climate change, foreign affairs ministries directed to ensure that visas for wildlife sanctuary representatives are not delayed; IWMB to submit weekly report on formalities relating to Kaavan’s move

Justice Minallah expressed satisfaction after being informed by the IWMB that the “marsh crocodile, which had been kept in a small cage under extreme inhumane conditions at the Marghazar Zoo, Islamabad was released for its onward journey to its sanctuary situated near Sukkur in the province of Sindh.”

According to the minutes of the IWMB meeting: “It is decided that Kaavan (Asian elephant) should be retired to Cambodia wildlife sanctuary, after health assessment by visiting veterinarian and staff from the sanctuary...The ministry may write to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to expedite the visa process of visiting vet and consultants...It has been agreed that the expenses for the visit of vets and staff from the sanctuary, medical tests, crate building and training and relocation transport will be borne by NGO-Free the Wild.”

The court also praised the government’s efforts for the well-being of the zoo animals.

The order said: “Advisor to the Prime Minister on Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam stressed that the prime minister has issued strong directions to the Ministry of Climate Change to provide all required support for implementation of the court’s decisions. Also, the ministry has been tasked to provide support for future rethinking and revamping of the Islamabad Zoo into a more animal friendly enclave which provides environment for adequate protection of animals rather than animal exhibit.”

The order said that the court recorded appreciation for the empathy, compassion and care displayed by the federal government and Prime Minister Imran Khan in particular.

The court also noted: “Jurisprudence of this court has also caught the attention of jurists outside Pakistan. Professor Laurence H. Tribe, renowned scholar and faculty of Harvard Law School, has referred to the judgment in his amicus brief submitted before the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, United States of America.”

The court said that the federal government and the IWMB may consider changing their focus from keeping animal species in captivity to developing, preserving, protecting and maintaining their natural habitats.

There is also a need to understand that the place for animal species are their respective natural habitats and not the artificially created enclaves in zoos.

The ministries of climate change and foreign affairs have been directed to ensure that there is no delay in the issuance of visas to representatives and officials from the the Cambodian sanctuary.

The IWMB has also been told to submit a weekly report with the court registrar regarding the completion of formalities for Kaavan’s journey to his new home and the relocation of all the other zoo inmates.

The court order concluded with the observation of operatic tenor Robert Breault: “The only creature on earth whose natural habitat is a zoo is the zookeeper.”

Published in Dawn, July 20th, 2020