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KARACHI, June 15: Children visiting the Karachi Zoo on Sunday looking forward to pony rides – perhaps the only attraction left at the zoo – were left disappointed as the pair of Shetland ponies was nowhere to be found.

When questioned, a zookeeper said that the male pony had been shifted to the Safari Park while the female would soon begin entertaining the children. It is worth noting that pony rides at the zoo are immensely popular among the children as the pony is the only animal at the facility they can touch during the rides.

However, upon further investigations, sources at the zoo revealed that the male pony died of an unknown disease a week ago and the female was also undergoing some medical treatment. Zoo officials were not available for comments.

The death of the male Shetland pony, about five to six years old, could be termed a major setback to the zoo since the docile animal had become quite popular among the children, especially after the death of Anarkali, the female elephant rightly called the celebrity of the zoo, for which children used to come from across the city and waited in queues for hours, just for a ride.

Even after three years, the zoo authorities have so far been unable to find a replacement for the great animal that served the facility for over half a century.

About the death of the male Shetland pony, sources said that apparently, it was healthy. The male was a little older than the female. Born and raised at the zoo, the Shetland ponies were born to a pair, which was imported in the 1990s. After remaining at the zoo for some years, one of them was shifted to the Safari Park, where it expired after some years, while the other still lives at the Korangi Zoo.

The average age of a pony in captivity is between 25 and 30 years.

Talking about the state of affairs at the Karachi zoo, Dr Mohammad Iqbal, president, Pakistan Society for Conservation of Wildlife, said that considering the pathetic conditions in which the poor wild animals were forced to live at the zoo, it was not surprising to come across news about one or the other animal dying of unknown diseases.

“The Karachi zoo is a lucrative commercial venture since a large number of people visit it, especially on Sundays. Also, a number of people have opened up there businesses inside the zoo and that also after making some payment to the zoo authorities”, he said, adding it was strange that the money thus earned was not being spent on the wellbeing of the animals.

The Karachi zoo, he said, had failed to perform the three basic functions for which such facilities were developed for animals throughout the world: education, recreation and conservation. “I visited the Karachi zoo a few months ago and was astonished to see that animals were not only underfed and were kept in filthy, unnatural conditions, but many lived in solitary confinement.”

He asked how any zoo could perform its role in conservation, if animals lived without mates. “Besides, there were many empty cages at the zoo. If nothing else, the officials can introduce local breeds of buffaloes and cows, for instance Red Sindhi cow and Sahiwal cow, which are the best milch animals in the world. At least in this way we can educate our children about the difference between a cow and a buffalo,” he remarked.