In the absence of any government effort for uplift, Karachi Zoological Gardens, which was supposed to be a place for conservation, has turned into a rotting prison for animals. The pictures (clockwise) show some of the oldest residents of the facility living without a mate for several years — a Bengal tiger, a bear and a chimpanzee.— Fahim Siddiqi/White Star
In the absence of any government effort for uplift, Karachi Zoological Gardens, which was supposed to be a place for conservation, has turned into a rotting prison for animals. The pictures (clockwise) show some of the oldest residents of the facility living without a mate for several years — a Bengal tiger, a bear and a chimpanzee.— Fahim Siddiqi/White Star

KARACHI: As elephant Noor Jehan’s condition remained serious at Karachi Zoo, attracting attention of the media and government officials, several other animals continued to suffer in silence, invoking little public outcry, it emerged on Tuesday.

Sources said that Noor Jehan’s illness was a sign of the institutional decay that the zoo had been suffering from for decades, with little or no interest from the government in animal welfare.

In fact, the sources said, there had always been a war over resources between the two tiers of the government as far as the zoo was concerned.

“Lets’ admit it; there has been no sincere effort ever to improve the quality of animal life. Zoos still exist in the developed world where they function as places for wildlife rehabilitation and conservation. Why can’t we implement this concept here,” asked a former official of the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) under which facilities for captive animals run in the city.

Citing Noor Jehan’s case, he said local institutions had no expertise in elephant care and management.

Ailing elephant’s condition still precarious

“This means we should only keep those animals that we can look after. The government needs to hire competent staff, train the existing personnel and create species-specific environments for zoo animals,” he said.

Solitary confinement

A visit to the zoo revealed that the facility had a number of animals kept in solitary confinement. The list includes two female African lionesses, a female Bengal tiger, a female bear and a female chimpanzee.

These animals, zoo staff shared, had been left alone following their mates’ death years ago. Among them, the oldest resident was the female chimpanzee housed in a messy, tiled-floor cage found partially broken.

Her plight of loneliness could be felt from her excitement when she saw people around her enclosure as she clung to the cage and made noises to attract the visitors. Unlike her, the old bear remained peaceful in her pit, showing no sign of joy.

According to the zoo staff, the female chimp was brought to the zoo following a high-profile police operation in 2000 in a Karachi locality in which her enraged mate was shot dead. Both chimps being kept as pets had run away from their place and stormed a neighbourhood.

“The animals are living alone because there hasn’t been an effort by the zoo to find their mates. This could have been done through an animal exchange programme within zoos in the country or by involving the private sector,” shared an official.

“Having so many unpaired animals reflects poorly on the zoo administration. The zoo gradually would lose precious animals that could have added to its attraction,” he said, adding that solitary confinement obviously wasn’t natural and had adverse effects on animals, too.

Sources said the zoo having so many unpaired animals wasn’t a new phenomenon. In 2015, they said, the facility had 15 captive animals without mate, which included a hyena, a wallaby, two female emus, a male zebra and two female cassowaries. Today, the zoo had none of these species.

Four Paws team due this week

Speaking to Dawn, senior director of KMC Khalid Hashmi admitted that the lapses were part of the successive administrations and said he was trying his best to improve the zoo.

“We would appreciate the support from any individual or organisation in this regard. The facility has limited funds and is trying to look after the animals well,” he said, while rejecting the reports about feed shortages at the zoo.

About Noor Jehan’s condition, he said swelling on her genital area had reduced and that her treatment continued.

“The Four Paws’ team is likely to arrive this week while the wildlife department of Punjab is also sending its team to the zoo,” he said, adding that he had sent two to three reminders to the KMC for shifting the elephants to Safari Park per recommendation of experts.

It might be recalled that both Noor Jehan and Madhubala, along with two other elephants, were caught and separated from their mothers at a very young age in Tanzania.

The four animals came to Pakistan under a controversial agreement. Their well-being has been a source of concern among animal lovers since their arrival in 2010.

Last year, they underwent major surgeries for chronic tusk infection by Four Paws, an international animal welfare group, on orders of the Sindh High Court, which was approached by a group of citizens worried over animal plight.

Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2023

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