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KARACHI: Zoo needs healthy gene pool

November 12, 2007

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KARACHI, Nov 11: There is a need to create a viable, healthy gene pool of indigenous threatened species to reintroduce them into the wild as their numbers are fast dwindling. This can be done at the Karachi Zoo with adequate funding and support from the Sindh wildlife department and Karachi University.

Karachi Zoo in-charge Mansoor Qazi made this point while talking to Dawn about the animal stock position this year at the zoo. The zoo, he said, faced an acute shortage of staff and funds, which made it difficult to properly care for 900 animals. A lack of cooperation from the local wildlife department and the absence of a research culture were cited as reasons why the zoo had been forced to play a very restricted role in conservation.

However, this was not the case in other countries, for instance Bangladesh, Mr Qazi added. Recalling his visit to the country a few years ago, he said he found a hundred students involved in different research projects at Dhaka Zoo while on the contrary, the Karachi Zoo might have been visited by hardly four students over the last 15 to 20 years.

“Zoos play a major role in the conservation of threatened indigenous species. Under a particular habitat at the zoo, a viable, healthy gene pool is created after thorough research. Later, the species are reintroduced into the wild under an international code. The help of university students is vital in research. But, this is not happening here,” he said, pointing out that a strong linkage needed to be developed among the local wildlife department, the university and the zoo.

The zoo, he said, was also facing difficulties in finding pairs of quite a few animals. There were a few indigenous species at the zoo, but many of them had been without a pair for many years.

The indigenous unpaired species at the zoo include three hog deer females, two female Urials, a male Sindh ibex brought from a private farm some years ago and a black bear (female). Other unpaired species include a llama (female), zebra (male), hyena (male) and a Bactrian camel (male). Some threatened species at the zoo include a python, pelican, white stork, fishing cat and jungle cat.

Poachers at work

The local indigenous unpaired species were almost extinct in the wild due to unhindered poaching, he said, while stressing the need for their reintroduction under the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) guidelines. This could only be done with the help of the local wildlife department as there was a trade ban on endangered species, Mr Qazi said, while adding that the zoo had been in correspondence with the wildlife department and also contacted other zoos in the country for this purpose, but efforts had remained fruitless.

“For captive breeding at least two to three pairs are needed. In mammals, particularly, after five to six years, mating with the same animals involves some health risks, so there is a need to introduce fresh blood,” he said.

About the increase in the zoo’s population, he said that it was considerable. Thirty-two births had taken place in mammals; six fallow deer (increasing the herd to 36), one red deer (eight total), one Sikka deer (five), three white fallow deer (14), three spotted deer (14), eight nilgai (25), two antelopes (nine), one porcupine (14), four jackals (nine), one Arabian oryx (three) and one olive baboon (five).

He urged the city government to increase the number of the zoo’s staff and delegate limited financial powers to the zoo administration so that minor problems could be solved in minimum time.