Monday September 26, 2022

No pride in auction

By Editorial Board
August 11, 2022

‘The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way it treats its animals’. This saying – attributed to Mahatma Gandhi – holds true across countries, cultures, traditions. Unfortunately, Pakistan seems to have missed the memo on this one, the mere act of behaving as though part of a civilization increasingly looking like a distant goal here. Not content with taking every opportunity to butcher one another at a human level, our collective inhumanity extends to the animals we insist on hosting from distant lands. From zoos that seem to lose animals, whether to disease or depression, to regular people who are hell bent on attacking any stray dog they see on the street – Pakistan just doesn’t like its animals. And then there are those who find their alarmingly exorbitant wealth is best spent on exotic animals, that are then poked and prodded and displayed as signs of wealth.

In a recent case, the Lahore Safari Zoo – a private facility that houses lions, tigers and jaguars in wide open enclosures through which it is possible for visitors to drive through – decided to auction off a dozen lions to private collectors to free up space for a pride that won’t stop growing. The zoo is currently home to 29 lions, and officials had decided on auction to sell 12 of them, aged between two and five years. While the zoo has since decided to call off the auction, after much outrage by animal rights activists in the country, if the space it has found also runs out, the auction will take place. Whereas originally the park may have been better planned than many of the cramped, unhygienic zoos in Pakistan where people frequently tease animals and there are no measures to keep them in what would resemble their natural habitats, there is no guarantee that creating more space will solve the problem of the animals which need a habitat that more closely resembles the savannas of Africa. If it is not possible to rehabilitate them in these settings, perhaps they should be sent to better zoos than those that exist in Pakistan at the current moment.

Of course, if there is eventually an auction, the same problems will arise as before. Private owners frequently keep large, exotic animals only as status symbols. This is grotesquely unfair on the animals. The situation at Pakistan’s zoos had come to light a few years ago after the Islamabad High Court closed down the zoo in Islamabad following negative publicity over the fate of the elephant Kaavan who had developed psychological and physical problems after being kept in isolation for years and suffering other mistreatment. He was eventually rehoused in Cambodia after a campaign headed by singer and activist Cher. We need someone to speak up for the animals that are suffering in the zoos in Pakistan, which offer neither care to the animals nor education to the people. There is little reason for Pakistan to continue to insist on housing animals it cannot take care of. There is even less reason for those with money to buy exotic animals and keep them in an environment that does not suit their health or physiology. At the rate we are going, greatness and moral progress look like a distant dream.