Animals have a pretty rotten deal in Pakistan since the nation, by and large, can’t seem to stand the sight of the four-legged ones. Dogs are the worst off because man’s best friends from times immemorial are “paleed,” or untouchable. Watch the zealous ones in evasive action should, heaven forbid, a dog arrive. Short of an epileptic fit and frothing at the mouth, they will recoil in the same terror as women do when faced with a formidable mouse.
Our zoos-I find them more akin to slaughterhouses – are in horrific condition. The last priority of all administrators is the welfare of the inmates, because they have little or no use for these beautiful creations of God. As and when such good people as the famed Dr Toosi came upon the Lahore Zoo and the animals at long last had a real friend, circumstances were created that eventually forced that good and capable man to retreat both from the zoo and the country. The rest are third-class baboos with minds narrower than a needle and they like to keep their distance from those who have the misfortune of falling into their rotten corruption- and incompetence-ridden world. Zoos are a big no no and should be dispensed with. They have been around but the idea of imprisoning animals who are born to roam at will into a 10 foot by 10 foot cage is a criminal offence in my book – but zoos don’t read my ‘book,’ and so the animals suffer till they die often from diseases that are wholly preventable.
A so-called Safari Park has been built outside Lahore, but barring a few saving graces it is a forlorn, desolate and dusty land with the animals confined to an existence with few privileges. I think it will soon die a natural death, but by the time it does, the animals who reside here would have long died. I saw the place from close quarters and the sight of mangy big cats lying listlessly, completely bored and broken in spirit, was enough. I fled from this latest aberration and haven’t been back, but if it has improved I’ll walk barefoot to pay my respects to the Baboo-Kingdom.
They tell me that Karachi Zoo is even worse. It is no place for anyone, least of all an animal who cannot protest or put a shotgun to some official’s head and press the trigger. Now another scam, much in the same vein as was witnessed in Lahore some years ago. The Karachi Municipal Corporation, KMC, has taken upon itself to import four of the large cats-two magnificent Bengal tigers and two-what the officials blithely claim are “White Lions.” This scam was earlier pulled off in Lahore amidst much fanfare-but the White Lions are actually albinos, most likely the result of too much inbreeding. The KMC has considered it a waste of time to obtain an NOC from the Islamabad-based National Council for Conservation of Wildlife. (Do they mean by wildlife the ministers and the high-level generals, a species that is proliferating day and night?)
When the animals arrived after a gruelling two day travel-the Bengal tigers from Belgium and the albinos from South Africa – the KMC officials had done no paperwork in the case of the Bengal tigers, so they suffered for hours in their cages. The two pairs have set back the KMC by Rs17 million. As one correspondent said, at Rs5 a pop, it should take us into the next century to recover this amazing “investment.” Perhaps the KMC could have spent this money (aren’t they broke?) on improving sewerage, but then what good would that do? For one thing, the KMC administrator, the moving spirit behind (and I daresay in front of) this lark, wouldn’t be able to inaugurate the sewerage, whereas he has a whole song and dance routine planned for the big Inaugural, the Lord be praised.
The icing on this stinking cake is there is no NOC and no permission so far from the Sindh Wildlife Department. While those will be undoubtedly squeezed out, the KMC has simply gone ahead and done what it wanted to do – hang the rules. How this import was allowed without an NOC is not a mystery, as we all know. Worse is that the “importers” (read crooks who have been given the walloping contract) are defaulters already and are facing trial for a scam. The company masquerades under various identities and brought in lions, tigers, hippos, and what have you, in 2007. Case remains pending! Now this. Ye gods, is there no mercy? However palms will be greased and the gravy train will chug along happily.
I am not an expert on wildlife trade, but I believe that Pakistan is a signatory to CITES-the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. The Bengal tigers who are cut down to a little over 2,000 cannot be traded unless it is established that they are for breeding purposes and are assured of first-class conditions. The zoos at Karachi and Lahore-Islamabad too – are killing fields. What chance does an animal have? Breeding? They will be fighting to stay alive. The big cats in Lahore are herded into their suffocating cages by – guess what? Long bamboo poles with cloth doused in kerosene and a “trained” fire expert thrusting the pole at the terrified cats which scamper into their cages! Modern animal management.
The Lahore Zoo, which is rolling with money. has spent next to nothing on the animals. There are no X-ray facilities, no pharmacy, no vaccination program (TB is rampant), no medical record, qualified doctors or vets, no infirmary, operating arrangements and necessary qualified staff. God forbid, should an animal contract a disease, it would be dead sooner than later. The list of innocent ones sent to an early grave is a long and shameful one, and the blood of those innocents is on the heads of the heads at the zoos we have. The only “animal handlers” in Lahore are the security guards. You know why? Because they spend time with the animals, talk to them and give them treats. When the animals see the zoo director flanked by his scraping, bowing minions, they recoil in horror and retreat to the farthest corner. They know who their enemies are.
People like me have written reams without an iota of action. A group of us even begged the current chief minister to intervene, make the zoo autonomous and take it out of the clutches of the vile people, but many promises of executive action yielded zero results. Instead, his tacit approval led to two snow leopards ending up in cages in Lalazar, Nathiagali, where they live out their lives. More big cats have been added. Who looks after them? Your guess is as good as mine.
So my dear animal friends freshly arrived in Karachi, be prepared for a fate worse than death. Sorry, but you are now officially in the land of the devils.
The writer is a Lahore-based columnist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org