KARACHI, Aug 14: No law has ever been made to run government facilities for keeping wild animals in the city along scientific lines, wildlife experts told Dawn on Tuesday.

These facilities currently being run by the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation include the Karachi Zoological Gardens, one of the oldest zoos in the country.

The absence of legislation deprives the facilities of standards on animal-keeping, a serious flaw that gave unquestionable authority to the administration and even to visitors over the rights of animals, compromising their well-being, they said.

Another major obstacle in upgrading the facilities for captive animals, they pointed out, was the absence of administrative and financial autonomy and an acute shortage of trained staff at the facilities.

According to sources, the money generated by those facilities through visitor fee and other recreational services annually was deposited in the accounts of the KMC which then allocated an amount for the facility according to its own priorities. In addition, serious reservations existed over how animals were procured for those facilities as instances showed that the process lacked transparency.

Expressing concern over recent incidents, experts said it seemed the Sindh Wildlife Ordinance of 1972, national laws on wildlife and international treaties to which Pakistan was a signatory did not cover the city facilities for captive animals. The cases of ‘donated’ chimps, procurement of pumas through a blacklisted firm, an exchange of protected urial species, a wild goat, with those of deer from a wildlife ‘trader’ and import of four big cats by the KMC without acquiring the mandatory permit were some cases in point. No action had been taken in any case.

The zoo annually generates between Rs20 million and Rs30m, and the Safari Park earns from Rs5m to Rs6m. Besides the Karachi zoo and Safari, the KMC runs the Landhi-Korangi zoo and a mini zoo, which is part of an educational park in Federal B Area.

There are only two veterinary surgeons for 800 animals, including 200 mammals, at the Karachi zoo; there is only one for 500 animals at the Safari Park and there is no permanent vet at the other facilities.

“We do have an official description on the job a staff member is required to do, but there are no instructions or executive order that bind the staff and visitors on how to interact with fauna and flora in a way that takes care of all zoological sensitivities,” said Dr Kazim Hussain, director of the Karachi Zoological Gardens while agreeing that there was an immediate need for such a regulation.

Such a code of conduct, experts said, was a comprehensive document that also gave information about activities prohibited at the zoo, the penalties that could be imposed for violating the code of conduct as well as details about the methods for the  procurement of animals and the type of plantation captive animals should have.

“It is because of the absence of such rules that violation of animal rights has become a norm at these facilities. Not only visitors show no regard to animals, government officials running these facilities also demonstrate little respect for them,” said an expert referring to a programme at the zoo in which loud music was played in the presence of the KMC administrator and stalls displaying consumer products were set up on the zoo premises.

Justifying the need for a code of conduct and zoo standards, Uzma Khan, director for biodiversity, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), head office, Lahore, and a member of the Lahore zoo management committee, said if there were no written code of conduct and standards on the zoo, officials could keep animals in any condition they wanted.

A zoo’s basic function, she said, was to promote awareness. However, most zoos in Pakistan lacked an organised education programme. In some cases, there were no signs with details of the species on display.

“Globally, zoos are managed to present animals in their correct social setting in an enclosure that also provides information about the kind of habitat they live in. Therefore, an enclosure tells a story about animal behaviour, the threats it faces in the wild and its habitat.

“Zoos are supposed to be conservation institutions and not institutions to promote animal trade and that is a basic code of practice,” she said.

Answering a question as to how zoos were being managed in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, she said Pakistan did not have any set of legal standards to manage zoos. Therefore, one could not give specific remarks on facilities in Punjab or KP as each province had a mix of good and bad enclosures.

“The common leopard enclosure developed in the KP at Lalazar in Ayubia National Park is an excellent facility developed by the KP wildlife department. The Lahore zoo has good facilities for lions, but its elephant enclosure needs an overhaul, especially to ensure that the elephant is not shackled at night, which is something the zoo is working on.

“The best reference for how the animals should be managed is to have enclosures near their natural environment, where animals are able to express their normal behaviour repertoire,” she said.

She stressed the need for having an autonomous body with full financial and administrative powers to run zoos and added that the revenue generated by a zoo must be spent on the facility and according to the suggestions forwarded by an expert committee.

“There has been no outcome of the meetings our team held with the KMC administrator last year. We suggested that a committee comprising people from civil society, the Sindh wildlife department, non-governmental organisations such as the WWF and the International Union for Conservation of Wildlife with KMC and zoo officials should be set up to look after affairs of the Karachi zoo,” Ms Khan said.

KMC administrator Mohammad Hussain Syed and senior director for culture, sports and recreation Rehan Khan were not available for comments.

Experts said the Lahore zoo management structure was example good enough to be followed in Karachi. The 150-year-old zoo is managed by an autonomous body under a constitution revised in 1969. Independent experts are also part of the committee headed by the director-general for wildlife, Punjab. When contacted, a Lahore zoo official said efforts were being made to make a new constitution. “Its draft developed with the support of independent experts has been sent to the law department. If it is approved, most likely by an executive order, all the four facilities for captive animals in Punjab will come under one central zoo management body and each facility will have its own local committee to make decisions.

“Right now, only the Lahore zoo has an independent and self-sustained status. The safari in Lahore, the zoos in Bahawalpur and D.G. Khan are being run partially with government support.”

Giving his opinion on the issue, Bashir Saddozai, head of the Safari Park, said a master plan and a development plan for the Safari Park were being made. “It’s true that we don’t have such a constitution, but we are taking initiatives within our means to bring an improvement to the park.

“These plans would be ready soon and help make the facility grow in an organised manner.”

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