KARACHI, Jan 4: The city government is yet to take any steps to alleviate the suffering of the lone female leopard kept in unnatural conditions in the CDGK’s Korangi-Landhi zoo and being ‘targeted’ by visitors for fun.

During a visit to the zoo last week, the cemented floor of the cage was found littered with stones, big enough to cause serious injuries, plastic bottles and sticks, a sure sign of the cruel treatment the big cat had been subjected to over the weeks. The staff told Dawn that they could do nothing to stop people from showing the ‘beastly behaviour’ to the wild animal. “It’s not just possible to spare one person solely to look after the big cat as we have only a few people working here. Since everybody is busy in their respective jobs, people tend to take advantage of this and at times cross the outer grille in an attempt to tease the big cat,” a zoo-keeper said.

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 CDGK by the NWFP wildlife department in 2006.

It was transferred to the Korangi-Landhi zoo over three weeks 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 grilles, is cemented.

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.

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. The NWFP wildlife officials, however, claim that her canines were intact at the time of handover.

Though no scientific study exists on the population status of common leopard, the species is still threatened and is numbered around 300 to 500 in the NWFP, according to Dr Mumtaz Malik, the NWFP wildlife conservator.

‘No reason to worry’

Responding to Dawn’s queries, Dr Kazim Hussain, deputy district officer posted at the Karachi Zoological Gardens, who has been looking after the leopard since her arrival in Karachi, said he would ensure that the leopard was not harassed by visitors.

About the conditions the animal is being kept in, he said, “There is no need to worry. The big cats at the Garden zoo are also being kept in cages with cemented floors. The leopard’s health has not been affected in any way and the proof is that she is alive.

“She is 10 years old and I think it might be old age that is affecting her. We will shift her into the adjacent enclosure that has caves and vegetation once she gets familiar to the surroundings.”

For keeping the leopard in a turkey cage at Safari Park for two years, he claimed that the turkey cage was modified. “We built a retiring room and installed outer grilles to keep her there so it was not exactly a turkey cage.”

About her ‘lost’ canines, he said the leopard was without canines when she was received by the zoo officials. About the ethical justification of caging a threatened species, he claimed that NWFP wildlife officials told him that the population of the species was around 3,000 in Pakistan.

Shifting demanded

Fearing that the unnatural living conditions might cause premature death of the leopard, Dr Ghulam Akbar, head of the WWF-Karachi, called for the immediate transfer of the leopard to the Karachi Zoological Gardens.

“Our organisation is deeply concerned about the big cat’s life and safety at the Korangi zoo. It’s unfortunate that the goodwill gesture of the NWFP wildlife department has become a punishment for the leopard, a beautiful creature that is being treated as a mere ‘showpiece’.

“There is no exaggeration in saying that the big cat will die prematurely if not provided with proper care immediately. The loss of canines is a major devastation for any carnivore. It would be appropriate if the leopard is transferred to the Garden zoo, as the old zoo is somewhat in a better shape. Its enclosures are big. Besides, the animal would be under the direct care of experienced staff,” he said.

Offering help in improving the zoo conditions, Dr Akbar said a lot could be done in this regard. “The city nazim can play a pivotal role by seeking help from corporate enterprises to adopt animals. Besides, the WWF is ready to offer monetary and technical assistance. But, I was told by zoo officials that there were some bureaucratic hurdles and the zoo won’t be the ultimate beneficiary of any direct financial assistance.

“Our limitation is that we have a partnership fund that the organisation offers to the NGOs with expertise in relevant fields, but we can’t utilise the fund on our own. A viable option is that a third party takes up the zoo project,” he said, adding that the WWF would be more than willing to financially support organisations interested in zoo welfare projects.