Some of you may have heard of Kavaan, the lonesome and only elephant incarcerated in the Islamabad Zoo. His partner Sehli died in May 2012 after remaining in captivity for 20 long years – after being gifted to the zoo by the Sri Lankan government. The media highlighted the issue of Sehli’s death for a few days but then moved to another one, as is the norm.
Luckily, Kavaan was noticed by some animal rights activists abroad, who launched a vociferous campaign to unchain him. – he had been in chains for the past 31 years. The activists demanded to release him, and more than a hundred thousand sent a petition to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. He was thankfully unchained. In July 2016, the Senate Standing Committee on Cabinet passed a resolution recommending Kavaan’s repatriation to either Burma or Sri Lanka. But nothing happened.
A few months ago, I brought the issue to the attention of the current prime minister, who promised to solve the issue within days. But again nothing happened.
It is a pleasure visiting zoos in the West; one can virtually spend days there. But in Pakistan, people who even minutely feel for animals avoid going to zoos as it hurts to see animals in such pain and sorrow. But this is obviously not a solution to the predicament. I later requested former chief justice Ifthikhar Chaudhry to take notice of the conditions of animals in the Islamabad Zoo. But again, nothing happened.
Kavaan is not the only animal suffering at the zoo; he has only just come into the limelight. There is a baby crocodile that has spent his lifetime in a dirty pond, no bigger than the size of the crocodile’s own body, inside a small cage next to the offices of the zoo administration. Everyone, including perhaps the crocodile himself, is waiting for him to die so his agony can come to an end.
The Islamabad Zoo has one of the strangest structures in the world. It is a well made out of concrete and the only way for people to look at the animal inside it is from above. There used to be a fox inside it; now there is a brown bear. The animal in this concrete well cannot see anything except the sky. This is enough to make anybody go insane. For the past 10 years, I have been asking the Capital Development Authority to dismantle this structure. The chairman of the CDA, the current mayor of Islamabad and the previous director-general of the Environment Directorate have all promised me a number of times that this will be done. But the well continues to exist. I suggest the chairman keeps the person supporting the existence of this well as well as the one who designed it, inside the cage for a day hours so that they know what it feels like to spend 24 hours in such a place, let alone an entire lifetime.
The CDA authorities take no interest in the plight of the animals that are currently at the zoo, but for some bizarre reason keep planning to acquire more. The latest additions at the zoo are a pair of lions. Animals like lions and elephants require space the size of Islamabad to survive, but they have been kept in less than half a kanal of plot. However, the lions are lucky to have each other’s company. They have given birth twice but all their cubs died each time, resulting in the media noticing the deaths once again. As a result, the zoo authorities have been keeping the pair in separate cages so that they cannot mate.
Is there a solution to this cruelty? This may sound incredible, but there are neither any laws governing zoos in Pakistan nor guidelines for keeping animals in zoos. The staff employed has no specialisations in animal behaviour or animal rights and neither are they given any training. The higher officials of the zoo are simply bureaucrats who come from one job and go on to others in various ministries.
All provinces of Pakistan have their own laws dealing with wildlife and Islamabad has its own: the Islamabad Wildlife (Protection, Preservation, Conservation and Management) Ordinance 1979. But it is silent about the animals in the zoo as they are no longer considered to be wildlife. However, Rule 3(i) of this ordinance, notified in 1983, mentions the word ‘zoo’ and says that it shall be one of the functions of the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board to look after it. However, the board has not done so despite this rule, and this function continues to be handled by the CDA.
The Metropolitan Corporation Islamabad is also not interested in the matter, resulting in animals continuing to spend their time inside small cages, probably staring at people in disgust and contempt and wondering why they have been treated like this.
We fail to understand that animals are sentient beings with feelings just like humans. They are not trees or plants that don’t have feelings. Animals may not be as intelligent as most of us. But should we then cage the less intelligent?
The writer is an advocate of the Supreme Court