Wild animals, if they are bred in captivity or made captive through some cruel stroke of fate, ought to be given sanctuary. They need to live in an environment that at least resembles their natural habitat. They can be a source of awe and wonderment for the onlooker but must never be treated as a means of amusement.
But visit any zoo in Pakistan and you will see exotic species living, if you can call it that, in cages or concrete enclosures, listless or driven to neurosis, biting off their own tails, pacing about repetitively and plucking plumage in an involuntary frenzy. That is because they are seriously unwell, for the conditions they must endure are enough to drive any living creature insane.
Animals in our zoos are poked and prodded by visitors who exemplify all that is callous about this country. Mental well-being aside, zoo animals are also neglected physically by apathetic, incompetent or resource-strapped authorities.
We should hang our heads in shame because we have failed miserably in catering to the needs of the non-human animals entrusted to our care.
Anyone who cages an animal should pause for a second and think how it would feel if the same were done to him or her.
Given our track record, Pakistan does not deserve zoos of any sort, public or private.
Cognitive skills may differ but animals feel trauma just like we do. What we have in this country are freak shows, not zoos where endangered animals are protected or bred for the propagation of the species. When animals die in our zoos we import replacements, as if they were spare parts, and the cycle of cruelty continues.
The choice is clear: we should either run zoos the way they should be or not at all. There can be no middle ground. Dawn Editorial
The concept of zoo is based on three pillars which are conservation, education and research.
Conditions of zoos in Pakistan are pathetic. Keeping zoo environment conducive for animals is the responsibility of the public and the government. Animals’ psychology tells that they do not like to live in confinement like humans.
Animals must have sufficient space, food, water and a suitable living environment to allow them to exhibit natural behaviour, free from fear and distress.
A poor environment fails to meet the evolutionary and ecological needs of animals in captivity and causes a serious psychological stress. For these reasons, many animals display behaviours and emotional states indicative of psychological trauma and distress. For example, self-inflicted injuries, eating disorders, infanticide, and hyper-aggression.
Teachers and parents can play a significant role by advising children to follow rules of the zoo. For instance, visitors should not climb fences. They should not throw things to get animals’ attention.
They should not feed animals or birds and throw garbage in ponds or fish tanks.
Zoo authorities should have protocols for management, safety, health of animals. These documents would provide the best practice for animal care if directions are followed. Hazard assessments and a greater degree of accountability can also be done in the light of these scientific protocols.
An animal clinic and round-the clock availability of veterinarians in the zoo must be ensured.
The veterinarian should review and analyse morbidity and mortality of animals on a monthly basis.
The veterinary staff must be aware of the physiology and behaviour of zoo animals which are not taught in most of the veterinary schools in the world.
These animals are ambassadors of wilderness and this is not a role they have chosen, rather we have forced upon them. Zoo authorities have a moral obligation to achieve the most good out of this sad state of affairs. Habib Hyder Laghari Canada