Dr Anisur Rahman Explains Casualties at Islamabad Zoo

Response by Dr Anisur Rahman, former Chairman of Islamabad Wildlife Management Board to the Fact Finding Inquiry Relating to Casualties at the Islamabad Zoo Animals

It is fundamental to understand the reasons why the staff of the Wildlife Management Board has been unable to deliver to its full capacity and highest level of professional competence during the shifting of Islamabad Zoo animals.

The approved staff organogram of the Wildlife Management Board consists of 11 officers to manage wildlife related work and three officers for administration and accounts. Despite repeated requests for the approval of service rules to the parent ministry, CADD and MOCC over the last three years we have been unable to enhance our human resource and professional capacity. Despite support from the Establishment Division and Ministry of Finance for approved positions, at this time there is only one officer performing the duties for 11 absent officers. In the last financial year, we returned seven million to the public exchequer in unspent salaries.

All Board members are non-executive, we have no salaries or management position. But in view of the lack of management support I have taken the responsibility to help the staff in the field and in office management.

The working of Experts Committee and effectiveness of its recommendation/ compliance

Response: Islamabad High Court decision in WP 1155/2019 was received on May 21, 2020 in compliance of which the 3rd Emergency Board Meeting of the IWMB was held on June 02, 2020. It was decided to notify an Expert Committee for the relocation of Marghzar Zoo animals under the chairman ship of Mr. Rab Nawaz (Senior Director Programmes – WWF) with the following ToRs:

As no elephant sanctuary exists in Pakistan, is it possible to establish one that meets the behavioral, social and physiological needs of Kaavan?

If such an elephant sanctuary can be established in Pakistan, define its parameters and location and who should manage it?

If such a sanctuary in Pakistan cannot fulfill the behavioral, social and physiological needs of Kaavan, what countries and sanctuaries are the best options for his relocation abroad?

What is a reasonable time frame for Kaavan’s relocation within or outside Pakistan?

Until the new Islamabad zoo is built to minimum international standards, where should be lions, bears, zebras and wolves be relocated such that it conforms to their behavioral, social and physiological needs over the next 1-2 years?

The Expert Committee conducted two meetings, on June 10th and June 16, and issued a notice for a third meeting on July 24th that was to be held on July 28th postponed indefinitely. The issues to be discussed were related to, update and relocation status of Kaavan (The Asian Elephant) by Chairman and review on relocation of other animals and birds of Marghazar Zoo.

The 3rd meeting was cancelled at the last minute by be Chairman of the Experts Committee. Decision of the 4th Emergency Board meeting on the recommendation of the second Experts Committee was:


It is decided that Kaavan (Asian Elephant) should be retired to the Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary, after health assessment by visiting veterinarian and staff from the sanctuary.

The visiting team will be guided and assisted by Prof ZB Mirza and zoo officers.

The ministry may write to the MoFA to expedite the visa process of visiting vet and consultants.

It has been agreed that the expenses for the visit of vets and staff from the sanctuary, medical tests, crate building and training and relocation transport will be borne by NGO-Free the Wild.

It is decided that Director (Bio) as representative of MoCC for the zoo animals is nominated for assessment of final placement of animals other than the elephant. He should complete the assessment and shifting within a week, to comply with the court orders.

It is decided that none of the animal will be released in the wild.    

During both meeting the issue of Kaavan was decided but relocation of other animals was not decided. (In the proposed 3rd Experts Committee meeting there was to be an approval of the sifted animals).

By the middle of July, it was evident that the Expert Committee had not intimated any SOP’s or protocols for relocation of the Zoo animals, moreover Balkassar Wildlife Sanctuary, Punjab Wildlife and KP Wildlife will not accept our animals. The administrative and technical support from MOCC was absent, and there was only one week to comply with the court orders. 

It was then decided with IWMB staff that we should engage with other safari parks, zoo’s and breeding farms to temporary house our animals till the new zoo is established.

Management of relocation, decisions of the Board, planning, protocols relating to animal health, selection of sites for relocation, suitability of sites, sustainability issues, transportation arrangements, and legal agreements with relocation entities

Response: Management of Relocation: The staff appointed by MOCC was designated this task by the Secretary in an Office Order that “All matters related to animals in the Islamabad Zoo will be dealt” by her officers. These officers absented themselves and absolved themselves of responsibility. Thereafter due to lack of manpower and institutional capacity it was decided that the management of relocation would be entrusted to the organization accepting the animals.

Board decisions, had clarity, the onus lay on IWMB, the Zoo staff and support from the MOCC to complete the task.

Animal Health: Health certificates of each animals in Marghzar Zoo was established for the first time by both veterinary surgeons on the “Animal Welfare/Veterinary Committee” constituted vide F. No. 10(5)/2020/Admn-II dated March 18, 2020.

Health certificates of all animals are except birds which was prepared after the constitution of animal welfare & Vet Committee by Secretary MoCC.

List of animals is given below:

No. Animal No. Animal No. Animal
1. Nilgai 2. Hog Deer 3. Urial
4. Chinkara 5. Vervet Monkey 6. African Lion
7. Mouflon Sheep 8. Asian Elephant 9. Spotted Deer
10. Barking Deer 11. Black Buck 12. Zebra
13. Wolf 14. Rhesus Monkey 15. Himalayan Brown Bear
16. Ostrich        

Selection of Sites: IWMB received a list of suggested selected sites for relocation of Islamabad Zoo animals from the Zoo vet Dr Bilal that we altered July 16, 2020, to designate timelines. In compliance we contacted Balkassar Bear Sanctuary, Punjab Wildlife, KP Wildlife and Sind Wildlife Departments to accept animals as suggested.

Punjab Wildlife sent their staff for two visits to the zoo. But we did not receive any positive response from Punjab Wildlife Department. Though the Board was informed that they had been in contact with the IGF- MOCC on this account. Balkassar Bear Sanctuary refused to accept the bears for different reasons and so did KP Wildlife refuse to accept the bears.

On the advice of Dr. Bilal (Deputy Director-Zoo) the animals were to be transferred to the following locations:

MCI Animal enclosures in Islamabad

Awan-e-Saddar Zoo

Punjab Wildlife Department

Sindh Wildlife Department

But due to no support from Punjab and KP Wildlife the following sites were selected for the relocation of Marghzar Zoo, Islamabad;

F-8 enclosure of MCI

Sindh Wildlife Department

Birds park (Walk in Aviary) Lake View Park Islamabad

Jungle World – Army Heritage Foundation, Ayub National park, Rawalpindi

Khalid Mohy-ud-Din Khan, Private Wildlife Breeding Farm, Gandha Singh Road, Kasur

IWMB has stopped the relocation the remaining animals as decided in the 5th Emergency Board Meeting held on Friday, July 31, 2020. As per decision a new expert committee will be notified by the Chair IWMB to develop the SOPs and protocols for the relocation of remaining animals, meanwhile, IWMB appointed one supervisor, four Wildlife Guards and two-Armed Security Guards to avoid any further incident by the intrusion of MCI staff.

Further relocation process will be conducted under the supervision of Chair Expert Committee. None of the MCI staff was involved in the process of relocation of the Zoo animals, except some staff involved in the fire incident and its filming.

Transportation: This was left to the receiving organization to arrange on their own account.

Legal agreement with relocation entities: An agreement was signed with all the receiving entities that took the Islamabad Zoo animals which stated that:

It is a temporary arrangement till the new zoo in Islamabad is upgraded to international standards.

Organization that adopts animal will ensure appropriate feed quality and quantity as per Islamabad zoo food/feed standards.

The breeding record of all birds and animals should be maintained by adopting organization and IWMB official visit time to time for monitoring these animals. If animals are not living in humane way, then IWMB will relocate these animals without any notice.

During travelling adopting organization provide all assistance in case of mortality and IWMB will not be responsible for that.

Moreover, in the agreement it stated that IWMB will indemnify the adopting organization and understands that the health of animals is in the hands of God, but you will make the best possible veterinary care for them.

Major reasons for mismanagement

The Federal Cabinet has decided to hand over management of the Zoo to IWMB (MOCC), without the management capacity and head of account. The Zoo even today is staffed and paid by the Municipal Corporation Islamabad. During the shifting of animals, there was near zero support from the Zoo staff, and my opinion the entire fire incident was filmed by these very staff, whom the Islamabad Police is trying to uncover.

Simultaneously, there is an attempt of institutional capture by MOCC on IWMB, so IWMB is being weakened by hindering hiring of staff and regularization of existing staff.

There is need for cooperation of all the departments concerned for the welfare of animals as judiciously explained in the IHC decision of May 21, 2020. 

Any specific person or factor responsible for animal causalities, with details:

The Islamabad Wildlife Management Board and specifically Dr Anis for not convincing the IHC of the capacity weakness of IWMB, MOCC and Wildlife Departments in the country.

IWMB and MOCC could not convince the provincial wildlife departments to support the shifting of animals so private parties had to be hired.

Chief Justice Ather Minallah of the Islamabad High Court, set-up unrealistic timelines for the evacuation of the Zoo, perhaps knowing well the state of institutional weaknesses in Pakistan. 

Ministry of Climate Change, for playing politics and attempting institutional capture on IWMB, and not letting a vital Protective Areas institution develop and flourish, so that when the time came for IWMB to deliver it was a skeletal organization with no legal or staffing strength to manage the MHNP or the Zoo

Zoo management and staff, especially the Director and Deputy Director (vet) as the autopsy states that:

The animal was weak, emaciated and dehydrated, eyes were sunken and conjunctiva         was pale. Animal was non-dewormed and non-vaccinated and was having travel history          with insufficient space.

1st opinion: (Dr Amir Khalil, Sr, Veterinary Doctor, FOUR PAWS International) ‘In general        the animals are in very poor physical body condition, hemorrhagic gastric inflammation          and high parasite presence clearly show that the international standards and good      veterinary practice are not followed and the animals were not prepared for transport.’

2nd opinion: (Dr. Betsy Coville, Veterinary Forensic Specialist in US) ‘My conclusion is that        both of these animals are in sufficient physical decline that would have resulted in death             in the near future without extreme intervention but were exacerbated by the emotional stress and physical trauma immediately preceding the transport.’

Any other aspect the members may deem important:

The sacrifice of the lions and other animals lost during the shifting should not go in waste, they were lords of the jungle and died a very painful and disgraceful death.  

This is time that existing wildlife laws especially the archaic Islamabad Wildlife Ordinance 1979 and Rules of 1983, should be updated.

The vision of a new Islamabad Animal Sanctuary should be established, with animals no more in iron cages, but roaming freely.

Invest more in the existing Margalla Hills National Park with better staffing and resources

Initiate regulatory framework for zoos and aquaria in Pakistan

August 7, 2020

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