Saturday September 30, 2023

Cruel cages

By Editorial Board
March 23, 2023

If animals could speak, Pakistan would be in serious trouble. After the departure of Kaavan the elephant, people had thought that Pakistani authorities would become more concerned about animal health and safety, especially those in captivity in zoos across the country. But the recent reports suggest that nothing has changed. Noor Jehan – a 16-year-old elephant at the Karachi Zoo – immediately needs treatment. What started as swelling in her hind knee joints has now spread to her spine. She has become extremely weak and is slowly losing her ability to stand. The helpless elephant patiently waits for the department concerned to at least acknowledge that she needs medical help. According to reports, zoo officials are in a dangerous state of denial. The before-and-after pictures of Noor Jehan are enough to counter the claims of zoo officials who previously were also found guilty of negligence. In August 2022, the same elephant had undergone a tusk removal surgery. Her tusk root was infested with worms and maggots. This incident should have compelled authorities to start investigation against officers responsible for criminal negligence. Maggots are usually caused by open wounds. That Noor Jehan’s tusk was infested is a clear example of lack of attention paid to the elephant at a time when she injured her tusk.

Zoo officials say that they are in consultations with foreign experts and that a team from Four Paws – an international animal rights group that played a big role in evacuation of Kaavan – will visit the zoo soon. But the fact that an elephant has reached such a grave condition is indeed shocking. Over the years, there has been renovation work in the zoo to attract more visitors. But all these exercises are meaningless when animals are unsafe at the place they are forced to call home. In the case of Noor Jehan, zoo authorities have once again shown that they do not care about animal behaviour.

When the Four Paws team visited last time, they suggested that Noor Jehan and her companion Madhubala be united with Malika and Sonia – two elephants who are in Karachi’s Safari Zoo as the four elephants are from the same herd. This recommendation has been conveniently ignored. The team also said that the animal’s habitat is unsuitable – no efforts have been made to provide a healthy environment to the elephant. Zoos are torture cells for animals, especially wild animals. In 2016, news broke out about mysterious skin diseases in two rare wild lions in the Karachi Zoo. As the public outrage died, no update was made in the case. In 2021, the male white lion died nine years after he was brought to the zoo; he was suffering from pneumonia. Pakistan has a tradition of treating animals badly. This ranges from stray dogs on the streets to rare animals kept behind bars, or at private zoos maintained by the rich. All over the world, zoos have evolved into places which, if maintained at all, are intended to meet educational purposes or help save endangered species through specialized breeding programmes. None of our zoos is able to perform these functions.