Please don’t close down the zoos

Published: May 15, 2012

Generations of responsible animal-loving Pakistanis have enjoyed spending the day with their families at the zoo. PHOTO: TARIQ HASSAN

It was with a heavy heart that I followed Islamabad zoo’s female elephant Saheli’s last days. News had it that she died due to an injury to her foot which got septic or a possible tetanus infection.

Terribly tragic as the event was, Mr Kamran Shafi’s subsequent article on the subject was disturbing and added insult to injury.

Speaking of Pakistan, he wrote,

Close down all the zoos – For we do not deserve the poor things, the animal haters that we are.

It is true that there are some terrible people in our country who exhibit an utter lack of compassion towards animals and even humans. However, to suggest the closure of all zoos is akin to burying one’s head in the sand instead of addressing the real problem at hand.

Generations of responsible animal-loving Pakistanis have enjoyed spending the day with their families at the zoo; this has given many people pleasant, life-long memories. Many children spends hours on end at the zoo, gazing lovingly, and in awe at the animals.

To call all Pakistanis animal haters is gross injustice.

Take for example Dr AA Qureshi, a leading expert on animal behaviour who served as the Zoological Garden’s Director for 30 years; take Rafiq Rajput, the unsung hero from the Sindh Wildlife Department, who died of a snake bite during research; take Hussain Bux Bhagat, who is regarded as the father of the Indus Blind Dolphin due to his efforts.

All three of these men are Pakistani.

Edhi has also created a shelter for stray animals funded by Pakistanis.

Do all Pakistanis sound like animal haters now? What a gross generalisation, Mr Shafi.

Such heroes need to be projected as role models for our youth who support conservation initiatives. Awareness campaigns should be initiated at the school level to foster compassion towards animals. Simultaneously, pressure should be created by the media so that our legislators focus on animal rights for a change, instead of the usual much ado about nothing.

Cruelty towards animals in zoos is not a Pakistan-specific phenomenon and many zoos are shut down for lack of suitable conditions globally every year.

An indoor zoo in Bangkok has been criticised for keeping animals in a dreadful environment, often resulting in the death of these animals. In the US, illegal possession of big cats is not unheard of. In most cases, they are inbred and result in the conditions that Mr Shafi described.

Some such ‘zoos’ have even been closed after accidents, on public safety grounds, if not animal rights.

Dehiwela Zoo in Srilanka, a beautiful place to be at, was Saheli’s first home. Even Dehiwela and the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage – the world’s largest – are criticised by hardcore animal rights activists.

Much of the behaviour exhibited by animals who are caged is cited as ‘mental impairment’. This can actually be just that and not an excuse, as some people make it out to be. Chances are that animals pace up and down in their cages due to their natural instinct to roam about, hunger, playfulness or ‘heat’ – and I’m not talking about the weather!

On a personal note, my beloved dog, despite vaccinations and the best veterinary care available, kept chewing its tail. This resulted in ultimate death. Maybe this was a mental illness it suffered from or it could have been fleas. Some zoos are also infested with fleas – it is the circle of life. But is closing zoos down really the solution?

The point I am trying to make is that problems related to animals don’t occur only in zoos Pakistan; managing zoos and animals is difficult, but instead of just closing them down, shouldn’t we learn how to handle the situation better?

Today’s zoos are much more than the menageries that showcased exotic animals for the amusement of visitors. If properly run, they are centres of education, research and conservation. With wildlife inaccessible to most people, it is often here that love and respect for animals germinates in young minds. By all means, end corruption and malpractice at zoos, but please do not close them down altogether.

Give our youth at least the chance to fall in love with animals. How can you expect the love and respect for animals to flourish if you won’t even give us a chance?

Due to cruel treatment of animals, should zoos be closed down in Pakistan?

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Adil Mulki

Adil Mulki

The author is a Finance and Audit professional presently working for a bank. In his free time he enjoys travelling to remote areas in Pakistan, outdoor activities such as camping, trekking, hiking, fishing, boating and riding etc.

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

  • Nandita.

    Zoo’s are unnatural habitats for animals.While I understand your concerns, I think it’s cruel to cage animals.Animals deserve to be in their natural surroundings; out in the wild. Wildlife sanctuaries/National parks are a great option. I have travelled extensively across many such sanctuaries in Africa ( Masai Mara ),India and Sri Lanka. The tiger population in India was rapidly dwindling but according to the latest reports it is on the rise now. Most tigers in India are found not in zoo’s but in our national parks – Bandhavgarh, kanha, ranthambore, bandipur , nagzira, tadoba, suderbans, corbett etc etc.
    I am a trekker and traveller and I spend almost two months a year trekking in the Himalayas or across National parks in India and i can tell you first hand the thrill of watching animals in the wild is greater than watching them prowling around in a cage.
    Pakistan, I have heard, has national parks as well. As an animal lover, I feel developing and securing our national parks is an important aspect in keeping our wildlife safe and secure. Recommend

  • Nandita.

    @ MODS – Please change the pic on this blog. This picture of children on a camel ride in a city does not depict animal love.
    CAMELS are not supposed to be living in cities. The natural habitat of a camel is a desert. The shape of a camels feet, the length and shape and thickness of the eyelids, It’s ” water hump” are all designed to enable it to survive the harsh weather of deserts.
    It’s sad to see animals so far removed from their natural surroundings.Recommend

  • Nandita.


  • What the…?

    If something could have been about it, it would have been done sooner. The poor creatures have suffered enough. Even the local urban population is taking part in this cruelty. A park near my place opened an impromptu zoo. I found pangolins there! One of the exotic creatures was dead by an obvious head injury. They recently brought in a lion. I can hear the audience’s screams from where I live! The animal is caged and i can just imagine what it must be going through. The same is the case for all the other animals there. They deserve better. Closing down such “facilities” is way better than letting them endure such torture!Recommend

  • Adil Mulki

    Thanks for your comment. Nice to know that you trek and visit national parks.

    I guess you missed the point. I was personally taken aback that Pakistanis were singled out for cruelty to animals and that closure of all Pakistani zoos was advocated.

    The augment that I make is
    a) cruelty to animals is deplorable but not specific to Pakistan.
    b) closure of zoos is not the solution – e.g. poaching, done by people who aren’t exactly animal lovers does not take place in zoos! Hence closure of zoos does not end cruelty to animals. Zoos can be used to educate people and make them love and respect animals.

    By the way, we do have national parks here and some of them are great places for animal watching. However, not everyone can afford a visit to them, much less masai mara : )

    Further, there has been some miscommunication (perhaps my draft was not clear enough). Our dog did not die of fleas, it actually had some mental issues despite vaccinations and proper care – we even had its injured tail operated upon here in Karachi – twice actually!
    My point was only that chewing can be due to fleas though it was not so in our dog’s case.

    Adil Recommend

  • mr. righty rightist

    I think Kamran Shafi was spot on.

    Generally Muslims have scant regard for human beings and animals. This is evident from every Muslim country. Most muslim countries treat animals horribly.

    I’m not sure if there’s a connection with islam and Quran, but this is a fact. An elephant in the room.Recommend

  • Diego

    Zoos are perhaps one of the last refuge of irritated “awam” who spend some time over there in order to get away from loadshedding, tensions and inflation. The last place for a family picnic for a large family. Ofcourse, those who hang out around zzamzama can holler all they can about animal rights. Its an irony that the class who cares about animal rights doesnt give a hoot about human rights. Remember the old Jinnah bridge near netty jetty? The poor cant even throw bread for the fishes from there… cause Port Grand and Co have blocked access to the water … oh it used to look so awful … the “natives” throwing food for the fishes!
    Improve the zoos… dont close them… if you can spend millions and millions to improve port grand… to destroy the ecology of areas around Mai Kolachi… and to literally kill the ecology around phase VIII DHA…. those restaurants that have cropped up over tehre… NOT ONE has a swerage line… they all just dump it into the sea… but thats all OK… it caters to the who’s who… and not just the zooRecommend

  • Diego

    mr. righty rightst just made some gerneralised comments about muslim countries treating animals “horribly” without substantiating his claims. Why were these comments allowed?

    Will my comments be allowed if I may remind everyone here that England with its fox hunts is not a muslim country. By the way the English do not eat fox and its purely carried out for their sadistic pleasure… they even smear the fox’s blood on cheeks as a sign of bravery! …it is actually a pagan ritual surviving through the ages there. By the way, in Europe thousands of pilot whales are slaughtered each year in farrow islands. Again thats not muslim territory. I’m not saying that there is a connection between christianity and the bible and this barbaric behaviour exhibited by christian nations.Recommend

  • Diego

    Nandita forgot to mention Kaziranga national park in India where the indians are making minced meat out of Rhinos that are still alive! Thats also a great way to observe animal behaviour… just a different animal though.

  • Diego

    @ mr. righty rightist
    Was just reminded by Nandita’s comments that there is a great National Park in India by the name of “Gir Forest”. The irony is that it is the only place in the world where asiatic lion still lives and it was created by a Muslim! the nawab of Junagadh. However, the indian govt. was not as kind to the state of Junagadh and its royal family, as the nawabs were with wildlife!Recommend

  • Nandita.


    And your point is ?

    Yes, there are unscrupulous people everywhere who won’t think twice before killing animals or humans for their personal gain. That’s a sad reality of life. But that shouldn’t stop us from declaring forest areas as national parks.We have to give it our best to try and protect wildlife.

    Please don’t get defensive. This is not about Pakistan Vs India. I do not engage in such petty debates. Look at the bigger picture here. Whether it’s animals in India, Pakistan or Timbaktu my concern shall remain the same. Species face extinction ! The planet is undergoing horrifying changes, we need to do all we can to preserve it. Let us, for once, look beyond our national boundaries and work towards the common good. My comment was not an attack against pakistan, it’s a pity you misunderstood it ! Recommend

  • Eyes Wide Open

    Just came across some Non-Pakistani animal abusers. Please note that these are cases where the allegation were proved in the court of law!

    i) A man allegedly set his dog on fire in front of his children in a stunning case of animal cruelty. – US

    ii) A man cooked a pet cat to death in a microwave oven after being left ‘home alone’ at a friend’s flat.

    The cat’s owner returned from work to find the remains of his beloved black and white moggy ‘Suzie’ in the microwave oven.

    The words ‘Menu fried cat £1.20’ had been written on the kitchen wall of Mr Parson’s flat.- UK

    iii) 28-year-old city man accused of torturing to death two small dogs and badly burning a third one over the past two months has an extensive criminal history – US

    In addition checkout this “Crocodile Conservation” in Mexico. The Crocs are farmed and then skinned. and oh, their meat is also sold for consumption. The theory is that this way animals in the wild do not need to be poached : )

  • Parvez

    If the animals in the zoos can not be treated properly then either the number of animals should be drastically reduced to that which can be treated properly or close down the zoo.
    Keeping the animals is a pitiable state for what here is termed as ‘public’s enjoyment’ is simply disgusting and not on.Recommend

  • Diego

    I totally agree that the planet is going through its worst phase because of human activity (mainly anyway) and that we all need to chip in and do something about it… and I totally agree that its beyond the India-Pakistan debate. It is no doubt a larger issue. Its just that when people like “mr righty rightist” chip in and bring religion into it and make sweeping gernalisations as the one he did, that the defensive “instinct” kicks in. Nevertheless, the comment was not addressed to you and my sincere regrets for any inconvenience caused.

    I fully agree and endorse your views that “there are unscrupulous people everywhere who won’t think twice before killing animals or humans for their personal gain. That’s a sad reality of life.” That is exactly the point that I was trying to make, singling out muslims or Pakistanis for such behaviour only serves to create further polarity and hurts the larger cause. Animal cruelty is a global phenomenon (see links provided in my earlier posts) and it is a deplorable behavriour that we all need to change. Infact it would not be a bad idea if for a change we treated each other (humans) with respect too.Recommend

  • Anoop

    I whole heartedly agree with Nandita.

    Zoos are not important but wildlife sanctuaries and national parks are.

    There is one point to be made in favour of Zoos, which is that little kids get to see the animals they read or get to read in books up close, which may lead to better understanding of wild life and may be a germinate a love for Animals in general in them.

    But, thats only one point against hundreds which are against Zoos.Recommend

  • wowsie

    Never knew zoos are so controversial the world over!Recommend

  • Meow

    Interesting debate in the comments section. I likes it!Recommend

  • Mr.Shafi

    Baita, if care is not taken for these poor animals you will see these zoo will all be closed itself in next few years. We dont value humans how could we expect ourself to take care of animals at first place?Recommend

  • Dodo

    Has even seen Dora the Explorer and her Cousin Diego? the characters are really fun to watch and my kids really love their interactions with animals. My kids want to see animals too… and thats only possible in zoos… if you close them down… do fill the cages with atleast some of the talk shows… Recommend