KARACHI, Feb 21 Brought under a lot of media hype, the four baby elephants captured in the jungles of Tanzania continue to live alone in a small temporary shed which has been divided into four separate fenced compounds lacking the facilities and environment peculiar to their needs, although seven months have passed since their arrival in Safari Park, which is being managed by the City District Government Karachi.
Sources say that no full-time mahout, working on the spot round-the-clock, is available for the calves that have been deprived of the care they deserve in the absence of their mother.
What could be more disappointing for a visitor, however, is the fact that there is no guide available at Safari Park to brief visitors about the few animals kept there.
It seems that the elephants are simply dumped at the place, so to speak, as even an identification-plate with brief information about the animals is missing.
Children will also be disappointed later when they will learn that none of the elephants would be tamed and trained for riding; the very reason people thought was behind bringing in the animals.
Experts also question the wisdom of taking four elephants as their proper management involves a lot of money and expertise, which currently is not available. The point makes sense if one considers how wild animals are being managed in captivity at government-run facilities.
The four calves belong to the Loxodonta africana species and aged less than five years; three of them are female and one is male while the youngest one is three years old.
Donated by the Tanzanian government to the City District Government Karachi, the baby elephants arrived in the city in June last year.
Dr A.A. Quraishy, a former director of Karachi Zoological Gardens, told Dawn that the elephants were very young and in desperate need of someone to fill the vacuum in their lives left by their mothers.
“We are not talking of just fulfilling their nutritional needs. The calves need to be looked after round-the-clock by a mahout just as mothers take care of their children. As they are four, there should be one mahout for one elephant each who should live near the place where these animals are kept. The growing up of an elephant is similar to that of a human being. “They need love, comfort and the feeling of being safe. A bond of friendship and love with a human is a must for the elephant's well-being as well as for human security,” he said.
Elephants, he said, thrived in extensive social networks in the wild and, therefore, no elephant should be kept alone. “Caressing one another gives them a sense of confidence and security. They would become a nuisance and liability for life if they were not tamed and trained at this age,” he said.
Seconding Dr Quraishy's views, Raja Mohammad Javed, the deputy director of wildlife, Rawalpindi, who had earlier served as the director of the Lahore and Islamabad zoos, said that the calves should be kept together as problems arose when the animals got mature.
“In Sri Lanka, they have an orphanage for elephants, where rescued animals live together. Unfortunately, here we do not have people trained in elephant care. Hence, old traditions continue.”
Dr Quraishy, who has the rare experience of capturing an elephant from the wild in the 1960s, also underscored the need for fulfilling the infrastructural requirements of keeping an elephant and said the enclosure should be reasonably spacious with an open playing area and a pond.
When asked if African elephants could be tamed and trained for riding, he replied in the positive. “Of course, though found to be aggressive than their Asian counterparts, the African elephants could be tamed and trained for riding. The very purpose of bringing the elephants here would be defeated if they were not tamed for riding,” he said.
Replying to Dawn's queries, Dr Kazim Hussain, additional district officer, Safari Park, said that of the four elephants, two would be shifted to the zoo where construction was in progress to set up a spacious enclosure for the elephants.
“Another enclosure spread over 90,000sq feet with a pond and playing area would be built in Safari Park in coming months where the other two elephants would live together,” he said. About the full-time mahout, he said that two people were getting “training”from the same person who lived with Anarkali, the female elephant who died at the Karachi zoo, a few years ago.
“They come in the morning and leave late in the evening,” he said.
Referring to the international guidelines, he said that the use of African elephants for riding was not suitable.
“However, it is equally good to have them for educational purposes,” Dr Hussain added.
But when it was pointed out to him that there was not even a nameplate for animals at their enclosure, he said that he would look into it.
“Often, I brief visitors. So, it is not correct to say that no guide is available,” he concluded.
It is important to know that there has been a growing debate in the world over the ethics of keeping elephants in captivity as researches have shown that elephants, the largest living land mammals, suffer in zoos and die young.
In fact, organisations like the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) in the UK has recommended the phasing out of old-fashioned elephant exhibits from zoos while calling for immediate, substantial and monitored improvements to welfare standards for elephants currently in their care.