The brown leopard that lost its majesty

Published: July 12, 2013
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This is a File photo of a leopard at an animal conservatory in the Dhodial Pheasantry. It is not the same leopard the author is speaking of.

Chaos echoed in the hills of Nathiagali when a number of men, dressed inappropriately in shalwar kameez and slippers, were spotted resting steel cages on their shoulders, while some tripped and others balanced.

As they hiked through the hills, turning heads, a number of bystanders, including women and children, just tagged along in excitement. What was thrilling the crowd and making me sad was that a beautiful animal that could have been roaming in the wild was caged up.

Drowsily resting its head on a piece of raw meat and occasionally moving its tail was a brown leopard. Entrapped in a cage so small, the leopard was heavily sedated. The crowd gathered around the cage. While some children threw leftover food in the cage, others continued poking it to make the women laugh.

The leopard just lay there hopelessly.

As children and women posed next to the other cage, with the not-so-drowsy leopard, clicking memorable pictures, it seemed as if they were a little too close for comfort.

According to some experts, there are no laws for imprisoned animals in Pakistan. The rules set by the World Wildlife Fund are not implemented as seriously here as they are in other countries. However, once the animal is out of the wild, it cannot be taken back and it continues to live an artificial life, where requirements need to be seriously addressed, as these animals tend to die before their natural death. Countries all over the world are now spending billions trying to nurture their wildlife, but due to lack of funds and education, Pakistan lags severely in this department.

Nathiagali, due to its high altitude, is probably the most humane place to keep these endangered species. The new addition of the snow leopard is one of the main attractions for the zoo this season. But due to the lack of funds, the enclave is tight. The rare animal, now in life imprisonment, needs food and shelter.

After seeing those animals, one realises that we ourselves are the problem. There needs to be more awareness and education towards such subjects and application of some serious basic rules, starting with how to treat animals from the minute they are caged. We don’t really have any guidelines here, as a result of which animals suffer immensely through our ‘trial and error’ system – which most often ends in error.

We recently witnessed the tragic demise of young elephant Saheli, who died way before her time due to an infection in her leg. Instances of negligence in zoos here are far and wide; we lost three lion cubs in 2011, while the fourth went missing at the Karachi zoo; all sorts of stories of sick animals in zoos cover the media space, because let’s face it – life is cheap in Pakistan and an animal’s life is even cheaper.

All of this just makes me wonder whether zoos should be shutdown altogether in Pakistan. If one doesn’t have the facility to treat animals right, then zoos should be kept shut. Children are better off learning about animals through Animal Planet videos rather than watching their agonizing imprisonment in a cage.

Read more by Maha here.

Maha Mussadaq

Maha Mussadaq

An Islamabad based reporter for the national pages of The Express Tribune.

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