After elephant Noor Jehan’s death, authorities plan to relocate her pen pal Madhubala to Safari Park

Published April 25, 2023
The photo shows elephant Madhubala at the Karachi Zoo. — Photo by author
The photo shows elephant Madhubala at the Karachi Zoo. — Photo by author

The Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) plans to relocate elephant Madhubala from the Karachi Zoological Garden to the sprawling Safari Park by the third week of June, officials told Dawn.com on Tuesday.

Madhubala, who is in her teens, lives alone in her enclosure at the zoo after her longtime partner Noor Jehan passed away last week. Ailing Noor Jehan breathed her last on April 22, the first day of Eidul Fitr, after a prolonged illness made worse by a fall inside her cage earlier this month.

Noor Jehan’s death has raised concerns for Madhubala, with experts stressing that she be immediately moved to the Safari Park that houses two more elephants.

Last week, a team from Four Paws International — an animal welfare organisation — arrived in Karachi to assist the authorities with the elephant’s relocation.

Talking to Dawn.com today, KMC Administrator Dr Saifur Rehman said moving Madhubala to the Safari Park was an “uphill” task.

“A huge animal that weighs over 2,000 kilogrammes needs to be moved in a container. The task requires expertise and scientific research,” he explained.

 The photo shows a sketch of the container being built to relocate Madhubala. — Photo by KMC
The photo shows a sketch of the container being built to relocate Madhubala. — Photo by KMC

Dr Rehman said a plan to shift Madhubala had been devised along with Four Paws and work on it was under way.

“She will be shifted in a container,” he said, adding that the construction of the container had commenced, but it would require some weeks to complete.

The sketch of the container, shared by the KMC administrator, showed that it would be 5,880mm wide and 3,150mm long.

The photo shows a sketch of the container being built to relocate Madhubala. — Photo by KMC
The photo shows a sketch of the container being built to relocate Madhubala. — Photo by KMC

Dr Rehman said that the “cutoff date” to shift Madhubala to Safari Park would be in mid-June.

The official said that zoo staff had started training Madhubala for the relocation, which included entering the container and standing inside it during the shifting process.

Regarding her housing at the Safari Park, Dr Rehman said that an elephant house would be built there for Madhubala and the other two elephants for which identification and specification had been finalised.

The Safari Park, unlike the Karachi Zoo — which is located in the centre of the city — is spread across a vast land with a natural environment.

Separately, Karachi Zoo Director Kanwar Ayub said that blood samples of Madhubala and the other two elephants at the Safari Park were taken today to determine whether the animals were fit.

“These tests are important before Madhubala’s relocation,” he told Dawn.com, adding that the samples had been sent to the University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Lahore.

“The results will be issued within two to three days,” Ayub said, assuring that authorities would ensure that all the required efforts were made to safely relocate Madhubala.

Elephant sanctuary

Meanwhile, in a statement issued today, Four Paws confirmed that authorities had agreed to relocate Madhubala and establish a sanctuary for the remaining African elephants in the city.

“We will continue to support and secure Madhubala’s future in order [for it] to not face the same fate as Noor Jehan,” it stated.

Earlier, Dr Amir Khalil of Four Paws had said the organisation didn’t want to shift the elephant to another zoo or Safari Park. “It should be shifted to an elephant sanctuary that should be built as per international standards in Pakistan.

“This requires a huge place and infrastructure and we need to start work on this from today.”

In recent years, zoos across the world have phased out elephant exhibits due to their needs and are instead sending the animals to sanctuaries.

Commenting on the establishment of a sanctuary, the KMC’s Dr Rehman said it would require a huge area spread over 10 to 12 acres. He added that authorities were holding discussions with the Four Paws team over the matter and exploring several options.

Noor Jehan’s autopsy conducted

The Four Paws statement also said that its team had conducted Noor Jehan’s autopsy under Dr Khalil’s supervision.

“Different samples were obtained from all organs as well as joint fluid. The expected results will be obtained in approximately two weeks,” it stated.

Karachi Zoo’s Ayub further elaborated that these samples too had been sent to Lahore, adding that the reports would be shared once they were released.

He also promised that authorities were committed to bringing forth “all the injustice” done to Noor Jehan. “Such criminal acts won’t be repeated.”

Moreover, the zoo directed hinted at constituting an inquiry committee to probe the death of the elephant.

Noor Jehan had been in critical condition for nine days after reportedly falling in her pond on the night between April 12 and 13 and suffering injuries. Since then, it had lain stricken on its side in her enclosure at the zoo.

Prior to the fall, the 17-year-old African elephant had undergone emergency treatment for a tumour in Karachi on April 5. Her condition had improved after getting treatment from foreign experts who detected a large haematoma in her abdomen and found the perineal membrane ruptured.

Experts had cautioned that she was an intensive-care patient, requiring 24-h­our monitoring.

But the zoo staff had been reportedly negligent in implementing the instructions.

In August last year, Noor Jehan and 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.

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