by Faiza Ilyas
Out of the 19 pythons handed over to the animal laboratory of the Dow University of Health Sciences (DUHS) almost a year ago by the zoo, only eight have survived at the facility.
What had directly or indirectly affected the reptiles’ well-being, they said, was lack of interest on the part of zoo officials who didn’t provide any data to the DUHS animal laboratory on the management of imported species. Besides, no financial support was offered to the laboratory already facing an acute shortage of funds and staff.
The zoo (that now owns the pythons) hasn’t paid a single rupee so far to the university lab which is forced to feed and take care of the reptiles from its own resources as the zoo hasn’t shown any intention to take them back, though it had verbally promised to do so in a few weeks.
The pythons are being fed ‘disease-free’ mice, rats and rabbits that are raised at the university lab. Each mouse costs about Rs1,500 and is given to reptiles once every 10 days. “The reptiles’ management is an additional burden on our laboratory, which lacks staff and enough resources to take care of its own matters,” said Dr Zameer Ahmed, who is running the DUHS laboratory of the Department of Animal Sciences of DUHS almost single-handedly.
The zoo staff, according to Mr Ahmed, has never visited the laboratory to show concern over upkeep of the pythons.
“All were sick when they were shifted here. The zoo didn’t provide us with any data on their habitat and feeding habits, though pythons were exotic and of different types,” he said.
A few reptiles died at the laboratory in initial weeks as they were brought in extreme dehydrated condition. Then, four pythons died in two separate incidents when they attempted to eat other. All carcasses are preserved at the laboratory.
Upon contact, Additional Zoo Director Syed Aqeel Tazeem Naqvi said that the pythons were handed over to the animal laboratory for better care and management and if the zoo had the capacity to do the job itself, there was no need to shift the animals there.
“We want the pythons to get a litter bigger and stronger before shifting them to the zoo. I have also suggested to the zoo director to get a staff member trained in snake care at the university lab,” he said, adding that he was not aware whether the zoo staff were keeping contact with the laboratory.
The university bills had been sent to higher officials for approval and all payments would be made, he added.
It is important to recall that 19 pythons, now a zoo property following a decision of the customs department, were part of a consignment of 31 reptiles which was seized at Karachi airport in February 2013 when the importer could not produce the mandatory import permit.
The consignment comprising one Python curtus, three boa constrictors, 14 Python regius and 13 Python reticulates was handed over to the zoo where they started dying one after another.
In a few months, 12 pythons were reported dead that included a 17-foot-long Indian reticulated python and a 12-foot-long albino reticulated python. The two big pythons remained ‘missing’ for sometime before reported dead. Their death is still a mystery as the species is quite hardy.
Later, the remaining species were handed over to the DUHS animal laboratory. In 2013, the zoo held a reptile show where a number of python species were put on display by animal lovers.