KARACHI: Forced into solitary confinement for the past several months, zoo elephant Madhubala is likely to wait till end of September for her reunion with her sisters currently housed at the Safari Park, it emerged on Thursday during a visit by a team of experts representing Four Paws (FP), an international group working for animal welfare.

The construction work for erecting an enclosure for Madhubala continues at a snail’s pace. The African elephant, in her late teens, has been experiencing visible signs of mental stress since April this year after her long-time partner, Noor Jehan, met with a tragic death following prolonged sufferings and neglect at the hands of zoo staff.

Left alone, the poor animal now awaits reunion with her sisters at the Safari Park – Malika and Sonia – after 14 years. The four elephants were caught from the wild in Tanzania and brought to Karachi in 2010 under a controversial deal.

Physical fitness

“Madhubala is physically fit to be shifted to the Safari Park. But the process is not just about transporting the animal from one place to another. We want to make sure that Madhubala safely reunites with her sisters and that its new home is safe and secure not only for her but also for visitors,” Dr Amir Khalil leading FP team said, while speaking to journalists after visiting the zoo and later Safari Park.

The experts’ team would train the local staff and Madhubala on the relocation process, he added.

“It’s important that she remains calm during the move for which the local staff would be guided to build a specially designed crate big enough to accommodate her,” he explained.

About the potentially fatal blood parasitic infection (Trypanosomiasis) found to be affecting zoo and Safari elephants Madhubala and Malika, Dr Khalil said: “Their health has improved after treatment. The animals have developed antibodies (against the infection) and the parasite load in their bodies has reduced. Continued medical monitoring is crucial for their wellbeing.”

Larger space sought

The FP team, Dr Khalil pointed out, had suggested increasing the allocated space for elephants at the Safari Park from 3.5 acres to 5.5 acres prior to Madhubala’s relocation.

“This is the first step before creating a sanctuary (for these animals) spread over 18 acres, which is going to be Pakistan’s first elephant sanctuary,” he said

On the finances involved in the relocation process and building an elephant sanctuary, he said it’s a joint collaboration (between the government and FP) and that the organisation appreciated the local administration for providing the much-needed land for elephants.

About the local practice of chaining elephants, Dr Khalil said elephants would be free 24 hours in the Safari Park area and that metallic enclosures (in other parts of the world) were only built with the purpose of training or treating animals in isolation.

It’s important to recall that the relocation of zoo elephants to the Safari Park – a relatively calmer and quieter place with a large green area -- was first recommended in Dec, 2021 by FP.

In its report submitted to the Sindh High Court, the organisation had also suggested capacity building training of the staff.

Experts discourage keeping elephants in zoos as their needs cannot be adequately met in a captive environment. Consequently, their welfare is severely compromised, they believe.

Published in Dawn, August 25th, 2023

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