Ailing Karachi Zoo elephant Noor Jehan passes away

Published April 22, 2023
Elephant Noor Jehan lying on the ground against a pile of sand in Karachi Zoo in April 2023. — Mahera Omar via Twitter/fourpawsint/file
Elephant Noor Jehan lying on the ground against a pile of sand in Karachi Zoo in April 2023. — Mahera Omar via Twitter/fourpawsint/file

Ailing elephant Noor Jehan, who was under treatment after collapsing in its pen at Karachi Zoo around a week ago, passed away on Saturday, animal rights activist Mahera Omar confirmed.

“She (Jehan) rests in peace now,” said Omar, who had been closely working with vets treating the deceased pachyderm.

Dr Amir Khalil of Four Paws International, who has been leading the team treating Jehan, will arrive in Karachi tomorrow, Omar confirmed.

Four Paws, an international animal welfare organisation, said Jehan’s tragic story was a “reminder of the suffering that captive wild animals endure in Pakistan and around the world. We hope that the authorities in Pakistan will take this as an example and do better for captive wild animals in the future.”

The organisation also recommended that Madhubala, the other elephant at the Karachi Zoo, be relocated as soon as possible to a “species-appropriate place to at least give her a chance at a better life”.

Jehan, a 17-year-old African elephant, had undergone emergency treatment for a tumour in Karachi on April 5 but had collapsed days later. Since then, it had lain stricken on its side in her enclosure at the zoo.

Following her fall, a team of local vets had been working remotely with Four Paws to monitor the elephant’s health.

Noor Jehan’s prolonged predicament

Earlier this month, the Four Paws team had arrived at Karachi Zoo following an SOS from zoo officials after they failed to diagnose and treat Noor Jehan, who had been suffering for months and became so ill that she was unable to move.

Her condition had improved after getting treatment from foreign experts who detected a large haematoma in her abdomen and found the perineal membrane ruptured.

The experts had cautioned that Noor Jehan was an intensive-care patient, requiring 24-hour monitoring along with medication and physical therapy.

The zoo staff was reportedly negligent in implementing the instructions and within four days of the team’s departure, the elephant reportedly had fallen into a pond.

Earlier this week, zoo officials told news agency AFP that animal experts were to decide whether Noor Jehan needed to be euthanised.

In August last year, Jehan and her pen pal, Madhubala, were operated on for chronic tusk infection by a Four Paws team.

In 2021, the team had submitted a report to the Sindh High Court, recommending a series of steps on elephants’ welfare after it was approached by a group of citizens worried over animals’ plight.

The team strongly suggested shifting the zoo elephants to Safari Park on the grounds that it had comparatively lower noise pollution and a better species-specific environment.

Both Noor Jehan and Madhubala, along with two other Safari elephants, were caught and separated from their mothers at a very young age in Tanzania in 2010 and brought to Karachi under a controversial agreement.

Zoos an unhappy place for captive animals

Pakistan’s zoos are frequently accused of disregarding animal welfare, and in 2020 a court ordered the only facility in the country’s capital to close because of its decrepit state.

Now, in light of Jehan’s plight, the World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan (WWF-P) has also called for the establishment of an independent zoo management committee with appropriate civil society representation.

It has also called upon the Sindh government and the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation — the body responsible for running the zoo in the metropolis — to carefully evaluate the dismal conditions at zoos and make well-informed decisions about their future viability.

On Thursday, Prime Minister of Pakistan’s Strategic Reforms Unit head Salman Sufi said the first meeting with representatives from all provinces on the future of zoos and their critical infrastructure issues would be held after Eidul Fitr.

“We will be pursuing consensus among all provinces and seek their approval for critical reforms. Animals are not our entertainment,” he said.

According to a 2008 study, zoo life can be deadly for elephants. It states that elephants born and raised in zoos live less than half as long as elephants living in native areas.

Scientists link most of these deaths to obesity because even though the animals are well-fed, they get very little exercise. Moreover, the blame also goes to the high-stress levels the animals suffer, primarily because of being separated from their mothers — which is exactly what happened with Noor Jehan.

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