Karachi Metropolitan Corporation ‘indifference’ delays relocation of lone zoo elephant

Published October 1, 2023
The container built to transport Madhubala to Safari Park arrives at the Karachi Zoo.—Courtesy Four Paws
The container built to transport Madhubala to Safari Park arrives at the Karachi Zoo.—Courtesy Four Paws

KARACHI: Zoo elephant Madhubala’s solitary confinement would not end anytime soon as the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) continues to drag its feet on her relocation plan, it emerged on Saturday.

Sources said the 16-year-old African elephant, left alone after the tragic death of her long-time partner Noor Jehan, had been scheduled several times this year to be shifted and reunited with her sisters — Malika and Sonia — at Safari Park.

But, her relocation, they pointed out, was still a distant dream despite constant reminders by experts indicating how solitary confinement could jeopardize elephants’ quality of life and survival.

Source said the KMC made the first official announcement for Madhubala’s shifting to Safari Park in April this year when Noor Jehan was still alive, battling a life-threatening illness.

Mayor’s aide says agreement with Four Paws for Madhubala’s shifting and construction of elephant sanctuary will be signed soon

The relocation was to take place with the support of Four Paws (FP) — an international team of animal welfare experts, who had recommended shifting of both zoo elephants to Safari Park for the first time in a 2021 report.

On April 4, this year, the then Karachi administrator Dr Saif-ur-Rehman at a media briefing held at the zoo had stated: “We are with Four Paws. All departments are ready to arrange any logistics needed for medical procedures. We are also making preparations to shift both zoo elephants to Safari Park within a month as per experts’ recommendation.”

Unfortunately, Noor Jehan passed away before KMC’s plan could make any headway. Later, the KMC extended date of Madhubala’s relocation to mid-June.

“That, too, passed without any development. In late August, the subject again received media’s attention when FP’s team arrived and started meetings with the local authorities that announced that Madhubala would be shifted to Safari Park by the end of September,” shared a zoo official.

A flurry of activities including visits by officials concerned to the site at Safari Park and preparation of maps for extension in the area reserved for elephants followed the meetings.

The FP had recommended a series of steps including training of the animal and staff, extension of the area already reserved for elephants at Safari Park, construction of a swimming pool and play area, prior to Madhubala’s shifting.

“But, the developments came to a sudden halt and Four Paws had to leave Pakistan without signing an agreement with the KMC under which Madhubala’s shifting was to take place,” a KMC official said.

Under the agreement, the sources said, the KMC would neither bear any financial costs for elephant’s shifting nor the construction of the elephant sanctuary proposed to be built at Safari Park by FP.

“Elephants are known for travelling long distances in large herds and love water. Smaller enclosures and solitary confinement could badly affect their physical and mental health,” said Sindh Wildlife Conservator Javed Mahar.

“Hence, there is dire need that steps be taken for Madhubala’s welfare including shifting to a larger open area as per habitat requirements,” Mr Mahar, who is also a member of the Task Force on Zoo/Safari, said, while sharing his concern over the delay in elephant’s relocation.

KMC’s reluctance

According to sources, what appears to be holding up progress on the relocation matter is KMC’s reservations over what it would “gain” from the agreement in the short and long term.

They said that the delay also indicated indifferent attitude of local authorities towards the plight of animals that were forced to live a captive life in miserable conditions.

“The agreement between the KMC and Four Paws couldn’t be signed because the dates on which the mayor and the FP team leader were available didn’t coincide,” explained Sikandar Baloch, the media coordinator of Mayor Murtaza Wahab.

It’s not a big issue and agreement would be signed in the next FP’s visit to Karachi, he added.

“The zoo officials can’t shift the elephant on their own and are waiting for the FP team. The experts haven’t yet confirmed their arrival dates,” he said.

Upon contact, FP team leader Dr Amir Khalil expressed happiness over KMC’s statement and said: “We would love to come to Pakistan again for Madhubala’s much-needed relocation.

“In fact, we are waiting to hear from the local authorities in Karachi to invite the FP team for signing of the agreement and start preparing the staff, the animal and the logistics required for the relocation. For Madhubala, we can go to any lengths to make her feel happy,” he said.

Published in Dawn, October 1st, 2023

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