Please don’t close down the zoos

Published: May 15, 2012
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Generations of responsible animal-loving Pakistanis have enjoyed spending the day with their families at the zoo. PHOTO: TARIQ HASSAN

Generations of responsible animal-loving Pakistanis have enjoyed spending the day with their families at the zoo. PHOTO: TARIQ HASSAN Many children spends hours on end at the zoo, gazing lovingly, and in awe at the animals. PHOTO: REUTERS To call all Pakistanis animal haters is gross injustice. PHOTO: EXPRESS

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.