THE callousness shown by our state and society towards humanity is often such that it comes as no surprise that less noble creations fare badly too. It is not that there is nobody to care: a number of animal welfare charities and societies operate across the country, amongst them several Edhi-run shelter and rescue homes. The problem is that basic empathy, even regard for life, is largely missing — no stray cat or dog may can slink away unscathed from a group of children without having a stone hurled at it.

So, while animal welfare groups and concerned individuals did protest over videos that surfaced recently of a weak white lion, living in appalling conditions at the Karachi Zoo, it is difficult to predict a course correction. A rare breed, the white lion died last Wednesday after having been ill for nearly a fortnight. It was suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis, and veterinary interventions were unable to save it. An autopsy of the relatively young creature — which was brought to Pakistan from Africa in 2012 — showed that it had pneumonia and that its lungs had stopped functioning. In fact, pictures and news reports over the years suggest that the maltreatment of animals is not restricted to Karachi Zoo. In fact, the tragedy of underfed and badly looked-after beasts has become a pattern in zoos across the country. The zoo director in Karachi has been dismissed over the issue, reportedly, but taking action against one person is hardly the solution to a problem that is endemic. It really is time for Pakistan to shut down its zoos and start humanely repatriating its captive zoo populations, bringing to an end a spectacle that has led the world to take notice — as in the case of Kaavan the elephant. Last year, the Islamabad High Court ordered the capital city’s Marghazar Zoo to cease operations as Justice Athar Minallah recognised that animals too have rights. It is time for other facilities to follow suit.

Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2021

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