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Zoo staff under radar after elephant dies ‘mysteriously’

May 01, 2012

Caretaker of female elephant ‘Saheli’ weeps at Margazar Zoo in Islamabad. – Photo by Online
Caretaker of female elephant ‘Saheli’ weeps at Margazar Zoo in Islamabad. – Photo by Online

ISLAMABAD: Performances of mahouts and veterinary staff of the Capital Development Authority were questioned after the death of a 20-year-old female elephant at Margazar Zoo on Tuesday.

It is being alleged that ‘Saheli,’ the female elephant, was poisoned or given an over-dose of tranquiliser, resulting in her death.

The female elephant ailed suddenly on Sunday morning and was unable to stand up. CDA even used a crane to help her stand on her feet, but in vain.

CDA’s Deputy Director General, Malik Auliya said Saheli had shown improvement on Tuesday morning and ate some watermelons, bananas and drank milk.

Director Zoo, CDA Sajjad Shah had suspended Faiz Muhammad, a mahout, soon after the animal fell down owing to illness.

The animal had a wound in one of her rear legs, but Malik Auliya said it had almost healed up.

Soon after Saheli’s death, CDA Chairman Farkhand Iqbal suspended Muhammad Bilal, Head Mahout. However any action against the senior officer is yet awaited.

An enquiry committee headed by Member Administration Shaukat Mohmand has also been formed to ascertain the cause of death, a CDA spokesperson said.

The CDA has two permanent veterinary doctors at the Zoo and also hired services of two private consultants, but they too could not help improve Saheli’s health.

Director Zoo Sajjad Shah said the head mahout always tried to maintain his monopoly at the elephants’ pen because he earned a lot of money from the visitors by offering elephant rides and photographs with Saheli.

He said, for last several months, Bilal had been opposing the deployment of another two workers at the pen and had refused to serve the animal in their presence as they shared the earnings from elephant rides.

Saheli had been friendly with the visitors while ‘Kavan,’ the male animal, is aggressive and unfriendly that was why he is usually kept chained.

Recently, the CDA management was considering to handover the elephant couple to Punjab Government for being unable to afford their food requirement, a CDA official said.

An experts’ team of National Veterinary Laboratory has already taken three samples from the dead body for examination. It will take two days to ascertain the cause of the death.

However, Mahout Bilal alleged that the elephants had been the victims of sheer negligence on part of the CDA officers who could not provide them all facilities required for their better upkeep.

Malik Auliya told APP that high blood pressure might have caused Saheli’s death.

The residents as well as the CDA officials have demanded the CDA chairman to ensure an impartial inquiry into the incident.

A huge crowd of visitors was witnessed around the dead animal. “As we set out for zoo, I had planned to ride the elephant, but unfortunately, she is no more,” said Maryam, a small girl standing sorrowed near elephants’ pen.

The Sri Lankan Government had gifted this animal to Pakistan to complete the pair at the zoo.