Four lion cubs died at the Karachi Zoo in August 2011. Mortalities especially of newborns are common at the zoo and are often hushed up.
Four newborns of a fallow deer and a male baboon had also died in captivity in July.
Though no official account was available on these deaths, the death of newborns due to navel infections was a common occurrence at the zoo while animals were vulnerable to eating plastic bags and wrappers thrown into their cages by visitors.
In early 2010, a complete herd of mouflons (two male and four female), a male fallow deer, a male ostrich and a female crocodile died at the zoo. The herd of mouflons, reportedly sick, vanished in 11 days.
After the loss of these animals, the number of ostriches and crocodiles fell to three (two females and a male) and 18 (kept in the same enclosure), respectively.
There are, however, more than 30 fallow deer in the zoo.
Ostriches have been at the zoo for over six years. And though the birds have been laying eggs, no one has ever seen a chick around. The zoo also never witnessed a growing big cats’ cub for at least three decades despite the fact that it once had a good collection of big cats that included a pair of lions, pumas and tigers and leopards.
The zoo lost them one by one, and right now it is left with only three male lions and Bengal tiger and leopard.
Non-friendly conditions for animals at the zoo and frequent mortalities point to the fact that the facility for captive animals lacks competent, trained staff as well as adequate funds required for animal upkeep.
Good Management Is Key
Giving specific information in the context of recent lion cubs’ death, Dr Masood-ul-Haq, who served as the director of the Bahawalpur zoo for over two decades and now works as a consultant for a number of parks and public zoos, said it was rare for a female to eat her own baby.
“Often a male does that. The female can do it if the baby gets an injury and she tastes her blood. It is common among females of any species after their first birth to stop nursing their babies. Hence, one has to keep an eye on the babies and the mother to see whether she is feeding them properly. The babies can be bottle-fed if the mother doesn’t respond positively,” he said, adding that he monitored the progress of the family through a CCTV camera.
The lions’ babies are born blind and must not be touched without covering ones’ hands with a cloth.
“The lioness has a strong sense of smell. She could stop nursing the baby if she gets the feeling that the babies have been touched by someone. The cub’s eyes get mature in 15 to 20 days,” he said.
Dr Haq claimed that about 100 lion cubs were born at the Bahawalpur zoo during his tenure as director and many of them were gifted to zoos and parks across Punjab.
Answering a question regarding the lions’ diet, he said the animals under his care got milk twice daily, besides beef, often laced with cod liver oil and other specific ingredients to improve their digestive system.
“The key is good management and proper feeding. Animals fear humans and one must try to become friendly with them so that they could live and produce successfully. The pair of the lion cubs that I used to take to my office is the one that has given births recently,” he said, adding that his lions were the most beautiful in the country (Faiza Ilyas).
What Happened to the Uplift Plans?
In the early 1990s a detailed plan for the uplift of Karachi Zoo was designed by top architects of Karachi.
Tariq Qaiser designed enclosures modelled on international standards, Hanif Dawood designed the boundary wall, Yasmeen Lari designed an extensive aviary. All costings were done and a presentation was successfully made to the chief minister of Sindh who, to the best of my knowledge, gave the go-ahead.
But as they say: many a slip between the cup and the lip. It is not clear why the uplift was never implemented. The government should revive this excellent project, or develop a new design to rehouse the zoo in the Safari Park.
Karachi Zoo was established on the site of the East India Company factory in 1878, and many generations have enjoyed a visit to the Gandhi Gardens. Today zoos have ceased to be a mere menagerie of exotic animals to be gaped at in cages. Modern zoos attempt to recreate natural habitats with enclosures replacing cages and conservation of species is given great importance.
Karachi Zoo remains locked in the Victorian era, the recent tragedy of the death of four lion cubs is a consequence of this apathy. A visit to Karachi Zoo instead of being an enjoyable experience is simply depressing. (Durriya Kazi Karachi).