IHC surprised over ministry’s decision not to relocate brown bears to Jordan

Published December 12, 2020
One of the two Himalayan bears. — File photo
One of the two Himalayan bears. — File photo

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) and Four Paws, global animal welfare organisation, were surprised over the abrupt decision of the Ministry of Climate Change to cancel relocation of two Himalayan bears to a sanctuary in Jordan and instead shift them to Ayub National Park in Rawalpindi.

After the bittersweet departure of Kaavan, the government appears to be resisting sending the two Himalayan brown bears to Jordan for face saving.

The Ministry of Climate Change has cancelled the permits to the Four Paws to take the critically endangered Himalayan brown bears to one of its sanctuaries in Jordan.

Four Paws representatives returned from Cambodia on Monday to prepare the bears for departure but they were surprised to learn that the no-objection certificate (NOC) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) export permit were cancelled.

“Everything was planned and organised for the transfer but then our team was informed that the climate change ministry has cancelled the export permit of the bears for unknown reasons,” said Four Paws.

Following the cancellation of the permits, the Islamabad High Court summoned the Ministry of Climate Change and Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB) on Friday.

Four Paws representative informs court adequate facilities not available in Rawalpindi zoo

Four Paws said: “We are confident that the state of Pakistan will follow the court orders to support the relocation of Suzie and Bubloo to Al Ma’wa for Nature and Wildlife, a sanctuary in Jerash, Jordan, which is run by Princess Alia Foundation and Four Paws.

The female bear, Suzie, fell critically ill after a tumour was removed from her chest earlier in the summer. The local vets were unable to stitch up seven inches open cut in the centre of her chest and she developed an infection. Four Paws vets, who arrived in August, operated on Suzie again, cleaned the infected wound.

“She is now recovering and healthy. Both bears are doing well physically now that we have put them on a better nutritional diet of fruits and vegetables. Suzie had diarrhea all the time because she was mostly fed milk,” a spokesperson for Four Paws, Marion Lombard, told Dawn on Friday.

However, the constant side to side swaying shows that both bears have suffered mentally. “We were very sad to see them in these conditions. As wildlife experts we know that we can provide an enriched environment for the bears in our sanctuary in Jordan,” Marion Lombard said, asserting that the bears need immediate care.

A senior official of the Ministry of Climate Change told Dawn on condition of anonymity: “The ministry wants to keep the two bears in a new sanctuary being developed near Pir Sohawa, Margalla Hills National Park, where people can see the critically endangered species. The government has already set aside Rs1.6 billion to build the sanctuary here. As much as Rs1 billion will be spent to overhaul Islamabad Zoo and establish a state-of-the-art animal conservation centre,”

The official said: “The ministry has the space and the funds to make it happen and prove to the world that animals can get proper care according to international standards. There can be no denying that we mistreated animals and they have suffered and the zoo shut down. But let this be a start to turn things around and make it better for the animals.”

According to the official, the two indigenous bears are doing well both mentally and physically and will be better off in their local environment which is more suitable for them.

In their response, Four Paws said there was no doubt that building a sanctuary was good for Pakistan. “But it will take time to train staff to take care of the bears. It will also take time to provide the enriched care to the bears, whereas they need immediate medical attention,” Marion Lombard said.

During a hearing of the case on Friday, the IHC wondered why the climate change ministry changed its decision of sending Himalayan brown bears to Jordan.

Counsel for the ministry and the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB) informed the court that the brown bears were being shifted to Ayub National Park.

IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah remarked: “It appears that neither the ministry nor the board have properly appreciated the judgment and jurisprudence of this Court.

“There is no plausible explanation for shifting the two Himalayan brown bears to be caged in another zoo which would not meet their social, physiological and behavioral needs. There is also no satisfactory justification for changing the earlier decision of the Board.”

The chairperson of the board has unambiguously stated that the two tormented bears are now being well fed and looked after.

“If that is the case, then why are they being shifted to another zoo? The earlier decision of relocating the two bears to a sanctuary in Jordan was taken by the Board and this Court was duly informed,” he noted.

“The reasons for selection of the said sanctuary were described and the same were recorded by this Court in its order. The Ministry of Climate Change had also issued export permits. Without informing this Court and, prima facie, in breach of its judgment the Board decided to relocate the two bears to another zoo outside the jurisdiction of this Court,” Justice Minallah observed, adding: “The Board on its own had entered into an arrangement with an international organisation having expertise relating to care of the living species. The said organisation namely, Four Paws has been assisting the Board in taking care of the neglected animal species.”

One of the Four Paws representatives, Dr Amir Khalil informed the court that adequate facilities were not available in the zoo at Rawalpindi to meet the needs of the two brown bears.

The court directed IWMB to hold a meeting before Dec 14 and inform the court regarding its decision. The petition will be taken up again on the said date.

Published in Dawn, December 12th, 2020

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