Karachi Zoo: A threat to endangered animals?

Published: July 17, 2012

Does the entertainment value that the zoo provides to intrigued children trump the rights of these endangered animals? PHOTO: WIKIPEDIA

The other day, my two-year old nephew would not let go of The Express Tribune. On the front page, there was a picture of a large white lion. While he didn’t understand the headline “South African white lions to land in Karachi”, he sat transfixed on the floor with the page and roared over and over again like he was the big bad Scar from The Lion King.

Unfortunately, I could not be as ecstatic about the picture as my nephew.

The Karachi Metropolitan Corporation imported these white lions at a price of Rs10 million. A glass enclosure is being built from a special material that is used for making airplane windows. Considering that the zoo’s entry fee is Rs5 for adults, it will be more than a few years before the zoo can actually break even on this new investment. I just hope that these lions are still alive by the time that happens.

I say this only because we’ve all heard stories of lions parading around in cages looking more emaciated than the top models of the country. Just last year, three cubs were found dead and one allegedly eaten by a lioness. With news of reptiles freezing to death, poorly designed enclosures and unqualified caretakers making the rounds, isn’t it time we close the doors to this establishment and return these animals to conservationists?

But the former director of the zoo Bashir Sadozai thought this was a completely justified and natural move. He said,

“White lions do not need special caretakers. The staff is well trained to handle the different kinds of lions. We have done all the assessments in this case.”

He’s right in one way – the white lion cannot survive in the wild and would be better off in a zoo. But wouldn’t you agree that even the wild has to be mild compared to the conditions of the Karachi zoo?

I checked online to see if a debate has started on the futility of caging these animals. But the debate was less thought-provoking and more comical.

Abb tou sher bhee goray ayein gay” said one.

Another one read,

“They must have done something seriously wrong, why else would they be in Pakistan?”

My favourite was,

“Welcome lions to the land of the mullahs, lionesses, bring your burqas!”

None of us realise how special these cats are with their prophetic long, white beards. White lions were once regarded as ‘divine’ by locals and represented the good that is to be found in all creatures. Referred to as ‘the children of the sun god’, they are a genetic rarity and occur in only one region — Timbavati.

Shamans believe that killing a ‘lion sun god’ is blasphemous and the ultimate form of disrespect to nature. They also believe that the way humans treat the lion determines how nature will treat humans. Given the zoo’s track record, it wouldn’t be long before we invoke nature’s terrible wrath upon us.

Why are we really doing this?

Does the entertainment value that the zoo provides to intrigued children trump the rights of these endangered animals? It’s important for kids to see these animals in all their glory but if my nephew knew the cost, even he would be happier with just a YouTube video.

Do you think Pakistani zoos deserve expensive, imported animals?

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Saba Khalid

Saba Khalid

A blogger for Rolling Stone magazine, a contributor to Kulturaustauch and Musikexpres, Saba is an Institute for Foreign Affairs (IFA) Cross Culture scholar for the year 2012 who also teaches creative writing to young aspiring writers. She blogs at letherrunrunrun.wordpress.com/

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Parvez

    Completely agree with you, sad though it is.Recommend

  • https://twitter.com/pugnate Noman Ansari

    The worse part is that white lions are not natural, and created through inbreeding. It is a sick practice. Recommend

  • Hashmi

    Can we rent some lions for the zoos, Dear PM, please help us in this regard, long live rentalRecommend

  • zK

    My thoughts exactly….! The Karachi Zoo is no less than a torture house for the poor animals…pathetic is the very word that comes to my mind! the working staff isn’t familiar with even the basics of natural animal habitat. I wonder how come these International organizations allow these buffoons sitting here to import such endangered species.
    I hate to say this but i feel Karachi zoo should be blacklisted by the WWF and similar organizations until and unless they make the required improvements !Recommend

  • http://surreallist.blogspot.com/ Surreallist

    I haven’t been to the Karachi zoo but its heartbreaking to read the conditions of how animals are treated there, with the cubs dead last year etc. I can’t help but wonder if the same scenario applies to the rest of the zoos in Pakistan. In some countries people are arrested if found mistreating animals. Afterall, they are living things too and Allahs creations. Just sad to read this! Recommend

  • Silent Observer

    why cage animals at first point ? here in Pakistan an ordinary person has no access to basic human rights and we expect animals to be treated in a good manner !Recommend

  • Faisal

    I wish I could’ve send these poor lions back to south africa because of the maltreatment of animals in Karachi zoos.Recommend

  • Sane

    Even the caretakers at Zoo eat the meat meant to be given to poor animals. Anyways this prevails in each and every govt. sector. If ‘caretakers’ do not find ‘meat for animals’ they eat meat of poor public.Recommend

  • Jugni

    The Muhajirs also done something seriously wrong so they some to pakistan 1947… hahaRecommend

  • Nandita.

    Can’t believe the South African authorities agreed to export the lions. Disastrous decision!

    I’ve said this in an earlier blog as well – zoos are not the natural habitat of amimals and it’s downright cruel to cage them.The purpose of any animal’s life is not to entertain humans.But for those who are genuine animals lovers-there are wildlife sanctuaries the world over;there are quite a few in Pakistan as well and I say this from first hand experience that watching animals in the wild are experiences that will stay with you for ever.The tiger population in India had been dwindling but the latest reports suggest that it is on the rise.This has been possible due to the efforts of conservationalists across wildlife sanctuaries in India.If we’re serious about protecting endangered species;wildlife sanctuaries have to be promoted and protected.For an animal lover like me,it’s heartbreaking to see the pitiful condition of animals languishing in zoos.For me , caging amimals is akin to jailing humans.The difference is that animals are caged for no fault of theirs.Recommend

  • Nandita.

    @Saba Khalid, According to the global white lion protection trust the claim that white lions cannot survive in the wild has Not been scientifically tested.
    Come to think of it,zoos are not the natural habitat of white lions and when these white lions have evolved in the wild,they should be able to survive in the wild just like other animals.Recommend

  • s shah

    This is very sad news. Animals are criminally mistreated and neglected in Pakistani zoos. How can WWF in Pakistan and other international conservation and zoological organisations be so blind. Pakistani zoos should be blacklisted and so should organisations that export animals to Pakistan. Recommend

  • Future_of_Pak

    @Noman Ansari:
    What are you talking about? Ofcourse it is natural. It is a natural variation Recommend

  • Tooba

    “None of us realise how special these cats are…” I completely agree when the writer is saying this, because I strongly believe in wild animals having a bigger and better purpose of being alive in their natural habitats, rather than in cages for “human entertainment” or “education” as far as zoos are concerned. How selfish can we be?! I hate to even imagine the condition these animals would be in at the Karachi Zoo! Recommend

  • http://glenns-busy-corner.blogspot.com/ Glenn Ryall

    I bet majority of the commenter’s here have either visited the zoo donkey ages back or else have never been there.

    Yes i do agree that the zoo is in a bad condition and many of the animals need to be looked after properly but then it is up to us as well to create awareness. We all including me can easily point fingers but never are ready to make a difference.

    So lets stop criticizing the arrival of these Lions, with us talking about things nothing is going to happen, rather we all contribute towards the proper development of our zoo. Recommend

  • http://Karachi Zezu

    In a city where humans act like wild animals under law of the jungle (khi), people talk about imported animals and wild life.Recommend

  • nylakhan

    Hi ,

    Nicely written, the worst part is that we here dont have proper facilities even if we get these beautiful creatures imported to our land, they are kept and are rotting their.

    It’s not just to bring in something from th wild and just keep them in cage without any proper care, above all we dont even have proper animal care center so that if situation requires we can call them up.
    All i can say our people still needs to understand that how important they are and unique and treasure to keep.

    i would like to share a sight where there are animal lovers, buyers and sellers who would like to intereact with serious people to provide them with homes.
    link text Recommend

  • https://twitter.com/pugnate Noman Ansari

    @FutureofPak:

    They are a mutation. Inbred and inbred and inbred to create more white lions. You only see the beautiful ones. The rest are mutated, ugly, and sick and die.

    Please read the following:

    http://bigcatrescue.org/abuse-issues/issues/white-tigers

    “The same gene that causes the white coat causes the optic nerve to be wired to the wrong side of the brain, thus all white tigers are cross eyed, even if their eyes look normal. They also often suffer from club feet, cleft palates, spinal deformities and defective organs.

    The white coat is a double recessive gene so most of the cubs born through this inbreeding have normal coloring but they too suffer the same defects and are referred to in the trade as “throw away tigers.” As such, they are often killed at birth because only the white tigers are the big money makers.”Recommend

  • https://twitter.com/pugnate Noman Ansari

    More on how white lions and white tigers are a result of inbreeding:

    “White Lions, like White Tigers are becoming increasingly popular in Zoos. There is even talk of ‘returning’ them to the wild. This borders on the ridiculous because like the White Tiger they are purposely created by man. White Tiger Breeding Is Not Conservation and neither is breeding of the White Lion. ”

    http://peterdickinson.hubpages.com/hub/White-Lion-Breeding-Is-Not-ConservationRecommend

  • https://twitter.com/pugnate Noman Ansari

    One final bit:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_lion

    “The white lion is occasionally found in wildlife reserves in South Africa and is a rare colour mutation of the Kruger subspecies of lion (Panthera leo krugeri).”

    “white lions in canned hunt camps have been found to have hind-limb paralysis and serious heart defects, indicating a severe level of inbreeding involved in mass-production although they are rare in the wild”Recommend

  • Lahori

    Karachi is a threat to animals who incidentally life both inside and outside the zoo! Recommend

  • https://twitter.com/pugnate Noman Ansari

    @Lahori:

    Lahori is a threat to the English language. Recommend

  • AnimalLover

    Ghandi once said ‘The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way in which its animals are treated.’

    Where are we as a nation when even the zoo, a place with individuals specifically given the task of caretaker, cannot treat animals right?Recommend

  • Nandita.

    I am no expert on white lions but this is the data I found on the ” Global white lion protection trust”
    website.

    http://whitelions.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=12&Itemid=13

    Please refer to points 2 & 3 & 4.

    This suggests that white lions were once a natural occurrence and have and can survive in the wild. The inbreeding started after ” They were discovered by Europeans in the 1970′s and they were artificially removed from the wild to captive breeding” ” Zoos specifically bred white lions because of their rarity and exploited them for financial gain ” I quote this from the website. Kindly go through it.Recommend

  • M.Abu bakar

    we should try to learn more before commenting………all the above comments are nothing but b.sRecommend

  • Dee

    Please join this group “Stand up for the animals at Karachi Zoo”

    https://www.facebook.com/groups/standupforanimals/Recommend

  • siddra

    There have been a long debate on the wildlife protection but no actions have been taken on this issue up till now. animals are human beings we should respect them as well as respect others. they only need care and love. there are lots of animals which are lacking basic medical facilities and in that process they lose their lives. Recommend

  • http://www.discoverafrica.com/ Cherene Pienaar

    Indeed, those are special cats! It’s such a pity that the earth is losing such sacred animals. I did some research on endangered animals in Africa, and this is what I found – http://www.drivesouthafrica.co.za/blog/the-most-endangered-african-animals/Recommend