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KARACHI, Jan 9: Four elephant calves — aged between four and seven years and housed in pairs at Karachi Zoological Gardens and Safari Park — have not been provided with proper enclosures since their arrival in the city more than two years ago, it emerged on Monday.

A visit to the zoo showed that the two female elephants were kept separately in an elephant house having a concrete floor though a little space was provided to each mammal.

Both seemed upset, with one of them hitting the fence that separated them with her head.

The staff at the elephant house told Dawn that the elephants were not united because they could hurt each other.

At the Safari Park, the male and female elephants were still living in the small quarantine where they had been first brought because work on a project to build a proper elephant enclosure could not start for want of funds.

They were a little fortunate in that they could be together, feel the earth under their feet and enjoy direct sunlight, though their feet were chained.

Health problems

According to experts, zoo elephants routinely encounter health problems, which are not observed in those living in herds in the wild, even if they are provided shelter, veterinary care and the attention of professional keepers.

It is for this reason that some zoos in the world have closed down their small enclosures and shifted them to proper sanctuaries.

Experts regard the provision of comfortable temperatures, places to relax outdoors, opportunities for long walks, abundance of different types of exercises, mud wallowing and swimming areas and pasture as critical facets for elephant enclosures. They say such facilities should be available to elephants round the year.

Most of these facilities, however, have not been provided to the elephants at the Karachi zoo or Safari Park.

“Elephants are like us in many ways; they live long, learn from each other and females make close bonds. Besides, they are highly intelligent and social as they live in matriarchal groups (led by the oldest female),” said Uzma Khan, director biodiversity, currently working with the World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan in Lahore.

“Elephants kept alone tend to be more aggressive,” she added.

The London Zoo, she said, had closed down their elephant exhibits though the Whipsnade zoo outside London had elephants.

“In the Edinburgh zoo, I saw a statue of an elephant with a sign saying that ‘this would be the only elephant you would see at the zoo. Elephants have complex social and behavioural requirements that the zoo cannot provide for them,’ she said.

About common problems elephants have in zoos in Pakistan, she said the large mammals were chained that caused behavioural and foot problems in elephants.

“You would see a shackled elephant swinging its head. Usually, elephants are shackled to hard/concrete floor, which damage their feet.

“Research has shown that at night, these animals are extremely active and also forage. Zoos should have provision to leave some forage for elephants at night.”

She said Pakistani zoos did not have proper enclosures for elephants. They could not have social groups in zoo as they had in the wild.

Breeding

“Generally speaking, since zoos in most parts of the world have not been able to manage elephants the way they need to, we have not been able to breed them and always buy them. This is not a good conservation practice.”

She said this promoted trade in endangered species.

“While animal dealers make profits, zoos lose resources that can be spent elsewhere such as enhancing health care of animals, supporting education programme for public. After all, zoos are there for the education of the masses,” she remarked.

Commenting on nature of elephants, Dr Masoodul Haq Chaudhry, a seasoned wildlife expert, said that it was a well-established fact that elephants needed big space. “It’s an extremely shy animal and doesn’t breed in captivity. A jungle-type environment, play area, provision of a full-time caretaker and a pond make elephants feel comfortable,” he said.

Finances

Speaking to Dawn, Karachi zoo director Bashir Saddozai agreed that the enclosure did not meet the elephants’ requirements and said he would take steps to make the place elephant-friendly.

“The project to widen the enclosure area with facilities for a pond and play area couldn’t be implemented due to a lack of funds. Once the [financial] situation improves, we will definitely improve the elephant enclosure.”