The import of a pair of African elephants from Zimbabwe to Peshawar Zoo is in limbo as the federal ministry of climate change has declined to issue no objection certificate to the contractor as of Nov 2019.
KP Provincial environment minister Syed Mohammad Ishtiaq said that the climate change ministry had refused to entertain his government’s request for the issuance of NoC to the contractor, who had been authorised to import the pair of elephants from Africa.
“The ministry says that the international trade of African elephants for commercial purposes has been banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and therefore, the NoC cannot be issued,” he said.
The minister said Peshawar Zoo might not get elephants as the committee had imposed a ban on the international trade of elephants for five years under the convention.
The African and all Asian elephants was listed in Appendix 1 of the CITES few months ago after the wild species were considered to be ‘threatened with extinction’. Officials said that Pakistan was signatory to CITES and other conventions related to trade of wild animals and bound to fulfil its obligations in this respect.
The process of purchasing elephants for zoo had begun in 2017 and the department had issued a work order to the successful bidder in Jan 2018. The international trade of elephants was banned few months ago to protect the large mammal from extinction.
Under the CITES, a special waiver allowed the international trade of elephants until Nov 25. The Zimbabwean government allowed the export of elephants to Pakistan after the convention gave a special relaxation.
The official documents show that after receiving work order from the provincial government, the contractor struck a deal in Zimbabwe to purchase a pair of elephants (male and female). The total cost of the deal is around Rs 80 million.
A team of conservators from Zimbabwe also visited Peshawar and inspected an enclosure constructed for elephants at the zoo. The team gave its approval. The contractor also booked cargo twice to transport elephants from Zimbabwe to Pakistan.
The wildlife department had sent a letter to the federal ministry on Nov 11 requesting the issuance of NoC to the contractor for elephant import.
The first letter for NoC was sent to the federal government in Jan 2018 when the international trade of elephants was not banned, but the letter was not entertained.
“Some officials in the ministry created hurdles and intentionally blocked the issuance of NoC,” said the official.
He said the host country’s wildlife department had issued health certificate and export permit but the Pakistani climate change ministry raised objection and didn’t issue NoC.
Before striking the deal for elephants in Zimbabwe, the government had also approached the Sri Lankan government for the provision of elephants for Peshawar Zoo, but it (Sri Lanka) expressed unwillingness. The Lankan government was not ready to provide elephants after witnessing the ‘awful’ condition of the elephant kept in Islamabad Zoo.
Officials said the provincial government might incur Rs 70-Rs 80 million losses if the contractor went to the court.
Contractor Mohammad Haneef claimed that he had visited many countries, including South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Namibia and Zimbabwe, to buy elephants after he was awarded the contract.
The officials claimed that the zoo opened to the public in Feb 2018 generated Rs 50 million annually.
Contractor Files Petition in High Court
On Dec 10, 2019, the Peshawar High Court sought comments from the climate change ministry and Peshawar Zoo director about a petition challenging the non-issuance of NOC for the import of two elephants for the zoo.
A bench consisting of Justice Lal Jan Khattak and Justice Abdul Shakoor asked deputy attorney general to get information from the Climate Change Secretary about the issue and update the court.
It asked the climate change ministry, provincial chief conservative wildlife and Peshawar Zoo director to formally respond to the petition separately within a fortnight.
The petitioner, the Mohammad Hanif and Engineer Construction Limited director, Mohammad Hanif, requested the court to ask the climate change ministry to grant NOC for the transportation of elephants for Peshawar Zoo without delay.
He asked the climate change ministry to take up the matter with the inspector general of forests and head of the CITES (Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flores as well as any other relevant authority to get extension of the reasonable time for the transportation of elephants.
The petitioner requested the court to direct the respondents, including the ministry of climate change, Peshawar Zoo, provincial secretary (forests and wildlife), provincial government through the chief secretary, and others to repay Rs 92 million incurred on acquiring elephants to the petitioner in case of failure to extend the time period for transportation of elephants to the zoo.
He contended that the ministry was bound to exercise its powers in the interest of the province and since the import of elephants was in the interest of the residents, the NOC denial for the purpose despite the fulfillment of legal requirements by the petitioner was a violation of Article 148 of the Constitution.
The petitioner said the Peshawar Zoo director had issued a tender on Nov 2, 2017, through an advertisement for bidding of different animals for the zoo.
He added that he had participated in the bidding process to the extent of sambar deer, barking deer, double hump camels, zebra, tiger and elephants along with other bidders and his rates for different animals were accepted as per animal specifications.
The petitioner claimed that he got the work order by the zoo director for the purpose.
He said he had provided sambar deer, barking deer and double-hump camels from the local market, while tigers and zebras were managed from Johannesburg (South Africa).
The petitioner said he had visited Uganda, Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe in search of the best elephants.
He added that the Zimbabwean government had agreed on the export of elephants to Pakistan subject to the visit of site and environment. The petitioner claimed that the official of the Zim Park Wildlife Department, Zimbabwe, visited Peshawar and found out the site conducive for the living of elephants.
He claimed that he was granted permission by the CITES on Nov 6 for transporting elephants but the same was delayed by the climate change ministry.
He said the ministry officials had verbally denied him NOC claiming that CITES had banned the transportation of elephants.