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KARACHI, Dec 14: At the mercy of uncouth visitors, the lone female leopard kept in a cage with a cemented floor at the Korangi-Landhi Zoo is visibly in bad shape. The animal seems to have lost vigour and is mostly found lying in a corner of the cage the whole day.

The Korangi-Landhi Zoo, which has received a leopard for the first time, is being visited by a large number of people, especially children, these days, all eager to see a ‘cheetah’, because this is what the banner hung outside the zoo says. There is no information about the animal at her cage to educate visitors.

Dawn talked to a number of people at the zoo, but none of them had ever seen the leopard strolling in the cage. “This is my second visit to the zoo in a week. I always find the animal sleeping,” said a visitor. Others seconded the view while adding that not only was the animal found “motionless”, but was always found occupying the same corner of the cage. Some children even believed the animal was dead.

The zoo staff, however, claimed that the leopard usually woke up at night. “The animal is free to do what she wants. She usually wakes up at night and eats 4kg chicken meat,” said a staffer.

Beastly behaviour

The animal’s misery is compounded by the callousness of visitors, many of whom try to wake her up by throwing stones or poking a stick at her. There is no one at the zoo with experience to handle a big cat. The zoo in-charge, who refused to disclose his identity, has experience in gardening and served at Frere Hall two years ago as a city district government employee.

It’s worth recalling that the leopard was transferred to the Korangi-Landhi Zoo over a week ago from the Safari Park, where she was kept for almost two years in a turkey cage. There she was found to be quite ferocious when visited in June by this reporter. And now that she is in a slightly bigger cage, she seems to have lost vigour and is still deprived of conditions closer to her natural habitat. The cage, surrounded by iron grills, is cemented.

Though the case of animals such as monkeys and porcupines is not much different at the zoo, they seem to have resigned themselves to their fate. The zoo also exhibits a limited number of nilgai, a pony, crocodiles, pheasants, tortoises, peacocks, ducks, pelicans, geese and exotic cats. Many cages, however, lie empty while others provide little information about the animals.

It was surprising to note that the leopard had not been kept in the large cage boasting vegetation, a pond as well as small caves. When the zoo in-charge was asked about this, he said: “Wild animals usually avoid public exposure and prefer to spend time inside the cave. This would have made our task difficult, because people visiting the zoo these days insist that they want to see the ‘cheetah’.”

Talking to Dawn, head of the Karachi Zoological Garden, Mansoor Qazi, under whom the Korangi-Landhi Zoo operates, simply rejected all concerns about the leopard’s health and said: “I saw him a few days ago and he was alright. Perhaps the age factor is taking its toll.”

According to Mr Qazi, the leopard is 13 years old and is losing energy due to old age. He also rejected the idea of releasing the wild animal into its habitat and said that it was not possible now. Besides, he said it would be a violation of the IUCN guidelines.

The leopard’s arrival

Captured three years ago near Nathiagali in the densely-wooded area of the Galiyat of Murree and the NWFP, the leopard was gifted to the city district government of Karachi by the NWFP wildlife department in 2006.

A member of the Pathera pardus or common leopard family, the big cat’s natural habitat constitutes the forests and watercourses of the north. The one in Karachi, however, is being kept in cages without trees, water bodies or even sufficient space/arrangement to exercise, first at Safari Park and now at the Korangi-Landhi Zoo.

Interestingly, the leopard lacks the four long canines that are distinctive characteristics of this species, and neither the Safari Park administration nor the zoo staff has any idea about how or when the teeth were lost or extracted.

Chief conservator wildlife, NWFP, Dr Mumtaz Malik, however, maintains that her canine teeth were completely intact, though slightly damaged when she was handed over. According to him, the animal was about three to four years old at that time.

Talking to Dawn, he emphasised the need for providing an environment closer to the animal’s natural habitat. “Leopards do spend long hours resting, but not in that way. Age has nothing to do with their level of energy. In this case, it seems that unnatural conditions and harassment by visitors are seriously affecting the leopard’s health. With a little effort and interest, the zoo officials could easily set up a cage in an environment closer to her natural habitat where she could feel at ease.

“A cemented floor would make her claws blunt. Besides, she should be offered chickens alive so that she could hunt them instead of being given meat,” he concluded.