ISLAMABAD: A controversy concerning the import of elephants for a zoological garden in Pakistan has landed in the Supreme Court.
A firm — Mohammad Hanif and Engineer Construction Ltd — has approached the Supreme Court (SC) through an appeal against the Sept 17 order of the Peshawar High Court (PHC) which had rejected its plea to import plant-eating mammals.
Filed through Advocate Niaz Wali Khan, the petitioner said it had already purchased two elephants from Zimbabwe and was bearing the cost of their food and upkeep, adding that it had been denied to import them for the Peshawar Zoo.
The counsel pleaded that the firm had filed a petition before the PHC in 2019 to import elephants during the hearing of which the Ministry of Climate Change had assured the court that a No-Objection Certificate (NOC) would be issued to the petitioner in a month’s time.
When the same was not done, the petitioner moved the high court again in 2020 for the implementation of the assurance contained in the high court judgement of Feb 4, 2020.
The petition, however, was dismissed by the high court on the ground that no contempt had been committed by the government.
The petition explained that the petitioner was a registered firm possessing sufficient experience of transportation and import of different animals for different zoos across the country.
The firm had applied and participated in a bidding process for the import of samber deer, barking deer, double hump camels, zebra, tiger and elephants for the Peshawar Zoo.
During the bidding, the firm was declared successful after its rates were accepted by the competent authority as per the specification issued in the tender form.
After fulfillment of codal formalities, the petitioner was issued work order by the Peshawar Zoo director to ensure the supply of these animals.
The petitioner ensured the supply of some animals after arranging them locally whereas zebras and tigers had to be imported from Johannesburg (South Africa) for which a proper No-Objection Certificate (NOC) was issued to the firm by the federal and provincial governments besides the Peshawar Zoo.
Later, the petitioner visited Uganda, Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe in search of the best elephants for the zoo.
The counsel said the Zimbabwe government agreed to provide the animals for Pakistan and its representatives also visited the location to assess the environment of Peshawar zoo.
The officials of the Zimbabwe Parks Wildlife Department thoroughly inspected the site and found it favourable for the elephants, and this information was also placed on the official website of the Zimbabwe government, the petition claimed.
After fulfillment of all formalities as laid down by the Zimbabwe government, the petitioner was allowed transportation of the elephants through the provincial government subject to obtaining NOC from the federal government.
Earlier in Nov 6, 2019, the petitioner was also granted permission by the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora)
for the transportation of the elephants but the same was delayed by the climate change ministry without any justification, the petition regretted.
CITES is an international agreement between governments to ensure that the international trade in the specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.
Subsequently the firm submitted an application to the climate change ministry for issuance of the NOC for the transportation of elephants. But it was delayed by the ministry without any reason or justification, ultimately refusing on the ground that CITES had imposed a ban on Nov 27, 2019 through a resolution.
The petition argued that the PHC had not disposed of the petition on merit, as a result the petitioner’s investment had been adversely affected due to inaction on the part of the federal government.
Headed by Justice Mushir Alam, a three-judge Supreme Court bench, after accepting the petition for hearing the other day, issued notices to the climate change ministry, Inspector General Forest, Secretary Forestry Environment and Wildlife Department Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Chief Conservator Wildlife KP and Director Zoo Peshawar.
The court however asked the firm’s counsel to keep in view the May 21, 2020 judgement of the IHC in the Kaavan controversy.
The next date of hearing will be fixed later.
Earlier in May last, the Islamabad High Court had decreed relocation of Kaavan – an elephant - from the Marghazar Zoo, Islamabad since he was treated cruelly by the authorities concerned.
Kaavan was gifted by the Sri Lanka in 1985 when he was one year old and for more than three decades Kaavan 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.
IHC had also ordered to move all animals to their sanctuaries due to the poor state of the zoo. Unfortunately in July last two lions died while being transferred to the private lion farm in Lahore from Islamabad Zoo.
Published in Dawn, November 22nd, 2020