Lone zoo elephant still awaits reunion with sisters in Karachi’s Safari Park

Published April 15, 2024
Madhubala in her cage.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
Madhubala in her cage.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

KARACHI: Elephant Madhubala continues to live in solitary confinement at the Karachi zoo despite several official promises made over the last year for her reunion with her sisters housed at the Safari Park.

Sources said the poor elephant was left alone following the tragic death of her longtime partner, Noor Jehan, in April last year. Since then, they said, plans were announced several times for her relocation but none could be materialised, mainly due to lack of interest on part of the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC), which is running the facilities for captive animals in the city.

Information gathered from sources indicated that there was no possibility for the pachyderm finding immediate relief from her solitary confinement and getting united with her sisters as construction for expansion and improvement of the elephant area at the Safari Park had not begun yet.

Last year, the 18-year-old African elephant underwent treatment for life-threatening blood parasitic infections that had earlier affected Noor Jehan. Both elephants had undergone surgeries for their damaged and infected tusks in 2022.

Madhubala lives in solitary confinement in Karachi Zoo following death of longtime companion Noor Jehan in April 2023

Replying to concerns about Madhubala’s health, senior zoo official Abida Raees said that she was healthy and fit for relocation and that the zoo administration was in constant contact with experts representing the Four Paws (FP), an international non-profit organisation assisting the local authorities on elephant care for the past several years.

“FP experts completed Madhubala’s crate training in December last year and they would decide the time for her relocation. There is no delay on our part,” Ms Raees said, adding that the zoo staff was following experts’ instructions.

Relocation pending since 2021

It might be recalled that the relocation of a pair of zoo elephants to the Safari Park was first recommended in December 2021 by FP in its report submitted to the Sindh High Court. The court was approached by the Pakistan Animal Welfare Society (Paws) activists concerned over animals’ plight.

The experts made the recommendation on the ground that the Safari Park was closer to the species’ appropriate environment and housed two more elephants of the same family — Sonia and Malika. The four female elephants were captured from the wild in Tanzania and brought to Karachi in 2009. Two of them were housed in the zoo and the other two at the Safari Park.

Their reunion, experts believed, would have a great positive impact on their physical and psychological well-being.

Sources regretted that KMC running the facilities for captive animals in the city didn’t pay heed to the experts’ advice on elephants’ relocation. The suggestion, however, gathered steam last year when Noor Jehan, the other zoo elephant, met a painful death.

The 17-year-old ailing African elephant had initially undergone emergency treatment for health complications but later ‘fell’ in her pond. She passed away on April 22, 2023 leaving her longtime partner Madhubala, alone.

‘Efforts on for relocation’

Asked about the reasons for delay in Madhubala’s relocation to the Safari Park, Katharina Braun representing FP International’s department for public relations explained in an email that the plan was very much a priority of the organisation and its teams were working tirelessly at the moment to make it happen as soon as possible.

“However, many factors contribute to the actual relocation: All agreements and needed papers need to be ready and signed — some of which were only signed recently in 2024. The agreement with KMC was finalised in February 2024,” she stated.

Moreover, she pointed out, all required and recommended improvement of the keeping conditions at the Safari Park must be finished before Madhubala could be relocated.

“The recent elections in Pakistan also had to be considered, as we are always respecting locally relevant events that might impact our schedule and timings,” she said.

About the progress achieved so far, Ms Braun stated that Dr Amir Khalil and his team recently met engineers and architects in Karachi to finalise the design and structural drawings for the improvement of Safari Park.

“The plans include increasing the land for the elephants to 5.2 acres. There will be a bigger pool and mud bath and enrichment for all three elephants. There will also be an elephant-proof fence and safety measures will be taken to make sure both the Mahouts and elephants are protected and their contact will be protected as well,” she added.

Ms Braun hoped that construction on the project would start after Eid.

“The project is definitely not on hold – ever since the agreement with KMC was signed. However, preparations with metal work and other elements of the design for the construction and the actual construction work would take some time. Once construction begins, we estimate that it [the required improvements at the park] will take one to two months to complete.”

It might be mentioned here that FP is solely responsible for infrastructure development/upgradation of the elephant area at the Safari Park under its agreement with the KMC.

Published in Dawn, April 15th, 2024

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