Islamabad zoo dangerous for animals: Austrian experts

Published September 6, 2020
The team complained that Kaavan’s handler was nowhere to be found without whom it was difficult to approach the 35-year-old elephant. 
 — AFP/File
The team complained that Kaavan’s handler was nowhere to be found without whom it was difficult to approach the 35-year-old elephant. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: A team of experts from Austria was disturbed to see the condition of Kaavan and other animals at the zoo in Islamabad.

Led by Dr Amir Khalil from Four Paws and his colleague Dr Frank Goritz, who is the head veterinarian at Leibniz Institute for Zoo Wildlife Research, Berlin, the six-member team is on its third visit.

“Conditions were really bad when we came in 2016. We feel sick to see that the conditions are worse now. Back then we handed a mandatory and obligatory report to the responsible authorities, the mayor of Islamabad and the wildlife department, especially regarding Kaavan and other animals at the zoo. We had recommended important changes in the facility. Our recommendations have not been implemented,” said Dr Khalil.

Four Paws is an international animal welfare organisation committed to encouraging people to treat animals with respect, compassion and understanding. It has presence in 15 countries.

The team arrived on the invitation of the government on August 22. “After a pair of lions was killed, the team feels that the situation for animals is dangerous. It is dangerous for staff and visitors to the zoo as well,” he lamented, explaining their task which is to provide medical assistance and assist evacuate animals in the light of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) order,” he said.

Say Kaavan is lonely, disturbed mentally

The team has faced numerous difficulties in the last week at the zoo. Lack of cooperation from the Metropolitan Corporation Islamabad (MCI) staff at the zoo created hindrances for the experts to finish their job.

The team complained that Kaavan’s handler was nowhere to be found without whom it was difficult to approach the 35-year-old elephant.

The team spent three days developing a new relationship with Kaavan and won his trust.

On Friday, the team performed a medical examination after darting the elephant. Blood samples were taken and Kaavan was given an identity by implanting a microchip, according to international protocol. They also took measurements to calculate its body weight.

“The animal is in a good condition despite its obesity, which does not seem to be leading to any medical issues. However, what we found out is that lack of physical and mental exercises led to the obesity and stereotypical behaviour. Its toenails are in really bad shape and in the need of an extensive foot care programme, which cannot be provided here unfortunately,” said Yavor Gechev.

The best recommendation will be that the elephant is transferred to a sanctuary where they have all the facilities to take proper care of it. There, it will be able to communicate and interact with other animals of the same species,” he said.

“Our first impression of Kaavan was that it is aggressive. But it is actually depressed and disturbed mainly from boredom, from lack of enrichment of its enclosure, boredom from lack of contact with the same species, even lack of contact with humans. It is alone all day long except for the only companions, which are wild boars that enter its enclosure from time to time and the crows flying around. In fact, it invites people to interact with it. Once Dr Khalil started interacting with Kaavan, its behaviour changed in a few days,” said Yavor Gechev.

Dr Khalil said: “Kaavan is a four to five tons animal. It is bored, very lonely, severely disturbed mentally. Its feeding programme of 200 kg of sugarcane is not ideal and ill advised. We are happy to hear that the animal will be relocated to Cambodia. We worked very hard and took the responsibility to entertain Kaavan, leading it away from the enclosure while the team worked on creating a safe environment before its procedure. It was not an easy task and was risky.”

Despite lack of electricity, lack of cooperation, lack of material from the zoo administration, we got tremendous support from volunteers spending a lot of time here, and that motivated us to do our job.

“We fear that after we leave, no one will care for the elephant. Test results of blood samples will come in a few days and we will have a complete assessment of Kaavan’s and if its health condition allows the animal to be relocated outside Pakistan,” he said.

Bears

On Saturday, Dr Frank Gortiz, who has been working with wild animals for nearly 30 years, operated on the female Himalayan brown bear which was in a critical condition. A while ago, local vets removed a tumour from it but the wound did not heal and it has been walking around in pain since over a year now. It took Dr Frank Gortiz an hour and a half to clean the infected wound and suture the open cut. However, the procedure was delayed by an hour after the zoo staff cut electricity without which the field lab, including the ultrasound machine, could not be switched on. Volunteers brought in their electricians to restore power.

“The bear had been operated in very poor conditions before. This facility is not according to international standards to keep wild Himalayan brown bears. I believe there is lack of experience, funds and lack of will,” said Dr Khalil.

“After being rejected from all the sanctuaries, we have decided to take both the brown bears to our sanctuary in Jordan where they will get better treatment,” he said, also offering to take the sick wolves with the bears in case they could not be moved to a better sanctuary.

Published in Dawn, September 6th, 2020

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