Wednesday August 17, 2022

Save the animals

November 05, 2020

With Covid-19 waves disrupting literally every segment of society this year, we are also experiencing a cruel and barbaric animal abuse wave all across the country.

On social media, we have seen animals being tortured to death, burnt in zoos and also kept alive in miserable living conditions. During the lockdown, many animals also perished due to hunger and thirst. Pakistan is one of the few countries around the world with obsolete animal laws, which allows people to torture animals with impunity. For any country to progress, it must urgently introduce and implement stringent animal rights laws.

Rampant abuse of animals is indeed a sad reflection on our society, especially when its greatest targets for causing misery are those who cannot fight back, those who have no voice to speak out against brutality. In Pakistan, millions of animals are abused, caged in miserable conditions, while those considered useless are shockingly exterminated without a thought.

Our zoos function in sordid conditions. Animals brought from abroad are completely neglected, abused and isolated as well. Kaavan, who is recognized as the “world’s loneliest elephant,” spent 35 years in the Islamabad zoo in miserable living conditions. After a court battle, he is now being shifted to Cambodia, where he will live in better circumstances. While this is good news, it is still shocking how it took us more than three decades to identify Kaavan’s suffering.

There are many other animals living in these conditions, who face the same circumstances as Kaavan. WWF Pakistan has categorically stated how our zoos are not kept as per the international standards set by the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) and the World Association of Zoos and Aquarium (WAZA).

In 2015, an animal abuse report highlighted that there are 112 million working horses, donkeys and mules in developing countries, supporting 600 million people. In our country, these ‘invisible workers’ are not only overburdened and underfed, they are also brutally maltreated. Animal abuse is a persistent problem on the streets of Pakistan, where dogs and donkeys also face torture. What is more shocking is that many animal abuse cases go unreported.

Let’s not forget how animal smuggling has been thriving due to lenient laws. Recently, 75 bustard falcons, one of the most endangered bird species, were caught by Customs. Sindh's endangered turtles are fast vanishing due to animal trafficking. The turtles are being illegally exported to many countries including Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Vietnam and Taiwan, where they are mostly eaten or used for therapeutic purposes, or for even artificial jewelry. A wildlife department spokesperson once clearly stated that “smugglers are let go just after paying a minimal fine”. This must change.

It is disappointing that a country with so much potential and land has only 29 national parks. Lessons must be taken from Sindh, which has the Kirthar National Park, home to several animal species. This park was designated as a national park by the Sindh Wildlife Department in 1974, and was the country’s first park to be included in the UN's listing of National Parks of 1975. Surely, we can invest a lot more in establishing national parks, to help our endangered inhabitants thrive.

Pakistan is a member of the World Organisation on Animal Health, formerly the Office International des Epizooties. It is imperative for member states to ensure many fundamental animal rights, such as “freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition, freedom from fear and distress, freedom from physical and thermal discomfort, freedom from pain”.

Animal rights education also starts from an early age. With 22.6 million boys and girls out of school, how can we expect them to know about animal rights? We must, with the help of NGOs, set up awareness campaigns in public and private schools, that can sensitise youngsters about animal rights. A nation-wide campaign highlighting the need to treat animals with more compassion must be introduced immediately.

As a lawmaker in the Sindh Assembly, I have worked on an animal rights bill, which will not only criminalize torture but will also specify basic animal rights. We need to introduce new stringent fines for those who torture animals without any fear of the law. We also need to make sure that animals are kept in proper living conditions, and that zoos that do not follow the SOPs are fined without any hesitation. We must not wait for another Kaavan.

The writer is a member of the Sindh Assembly.