On July 5, 2019, the Islamabad High Court directed that the management of the Islamabad Zoo be handed over to the Climate Change Ministry by the Metropolitan Corporation of Islamabad (MCI) until August 29, 2019 when the Court will resume the hearing. Things have not been well at the Islamabad zoo for a long time and animals continue to suffer.

At least 48 birds, eight nilgais, a deer, monkeys and four lion cubs have recently died.  And more are suffering needlessly.

Soozi, a female brown bear is struggling for her life. The Himalayan bear is being treated for injuries she mysteriously sustained recently in a small cage with restricted movement. The zoo staff say the bear got her face and the right leg injured during mating.

Experts say that the enclosure where Soozi and her partner, Balu, are kept is not suitable for such animals. The lion’s enclosure is also too small while that of Kavaan, the lone elephant, also needs to be improved.

With more than 60% of the Islamabad zoo’s 25 acres dedicated to visitors, animal enclosures can be extended to at least half an acre, letting them live in peace, dignity and good health. But in such projects money isn’t made by corrupt officials.

The other Himalayan brown bear at the zoo is nursing an open wound on his foot. He was a six-month-old bear cub probably bought in 2007 from a wildlife smuggler. Today he is malnourished, suffering from mange and limping around his cemented enclosure with a gaping wound at least two weeks old. His sister, also wild-caught, has already died.

Sub-standard medicines have been given to the birds to save them from bird flu but instead hundreds of birds have died.

It is believed that beef brought for the lion and other carnivores instead ends up in the houses of high officials. This point was also highlighted in the national assembly. No inquiry has been initiated so far.

Except for the nilgais, the zoo management claims that all the other animals died of natural causes. Four out of the eight nilgais, according to a postmortem report, died of poison.

Some years back, enterprising reporter Danish Hussain did a story about Kavaan, the last elephant standing at the Marghazar Zoo. The story came on the back of a petition filed by a woman of Pakistani origin in which the plight of Kavaan she highlighted.

The 31-year-old Asian elephant has been kept in solitary confinement and chained around his legs since his long-time companion Saheli – a female elephant gifted by Bangladesh in the early 90s to Pakistan – died in 2012. Kaavan was brought from Sri Lanka in 1985 when he was one year old.

Zoo keepers said that the elephant become depressed after the death of his companion. They thought it better to chain all his four legs instead of providing Kavaan medical treatment or finding him a companion.

Bilal has worked with Kavaan and other elephants for over 26 years. Bilal said that in the late 90’s, Kaavan attacked a person employed to clean the interior of the elephant enclosure. To avoid any further incident, Bilal then took over these responsibilities but then a decision was also taken to chain Kavaan for longer periods.

Zareen Khan, an American national of Pakistani-origin, started an online campaign. In her petition, Zareen wrote that she was astonished and sad to see the elephant standing at one place throughout the 45 minutes she spent at the enclosure.

Such is the power of the online media that over 27,000 animal lovers from across the globe signed an online petition demanding to free Kavaan.

The PML-N government in the 2018-19 budget had allocated money for the zoo but the PTI government has dropped the funding.  Islamabad Mayor Sheikh Anser Aziz says that the zoo collects Rs 23 million annually from the sale of entry tickets while its annual expenditure is Rs 100 million.

In 2018, the government had allocated Rs 100 million for the upgradation of the zoo but later the project was dropped. Interestingly the mayor accused some NGOs of propagating against the zoo for vested interests.

One wonders where the money, food and medicines for the zoo are actually going. We need an inquiry into the affairs of the Islamabad Zoo – we owe this to the innocent animals we have been mistreating for so many years.

Its time to change things for the better.

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