Karachi Zoo’s Elephants: Madhubala & Noor Jehan

The continuing ailments of elephant Madhubala at the Karachi Zoo from several infections saddens all friends of animals in Pakistan. Noor Jehan has endured harsh conditions and inadequate care during her 16-year captivity, making her stay at the Zoo all the more tragic. It serves as a stark reminder of the devastating consequences of neglecting these majestic beings’ welfare.

Madhubala was by Noor Jehan’s side when she died on April 22, 2023 from the same fatal infection. It is imperative to enact stricter regulations and oversight regarding animal care, living conditions, and medical treatment. Improved animal welfare laws must also be vigilantly implemented. In this regard, collaboration with international organizations and experts in elephant welfare can provide valuable guidance and support. It is essential to draw upon global expertise to ensure the highest standards of care for animals.

If the government is unable to allocate the necessary resources and ensure proper care for captive animals, and if financial constraints hinder the generation of funds to improve their welfare, a more viable and compassionate solution would be to consider a ban on all zoos across the country.

Efforts should be focused on facilitating the relocation of these elephants to reputable rehabilitation centers, where they can undergo a gradual rehabilitation process and ultimately reintegrate into their natural habitat.

As we are good with dramas, the Karachi Zoo authorities told the visiting Four Paws team that arrangements are being made to shift Madhubala to Safari Park within the next two months.

Wildlife experts blamed environmental pollution in Karachi for the death of the elephants. Two years ago, they pointed out that zoos in Pakistan are unsuitable for elephants.

Administrator Karachi Dr Saifur Rehman and Four Paws team head Dr Amir Khalil and international wildlife experts visited the Safari Park. During the visit, Dr Khalil, head of the Four Paws team, said they agreed to move Madhubala to Safari Park because a zoo is unsuitable for elephants. He said they had recommended two years ago that the elephants be carried out of the Karachi Zoo to an open area in the Safari Park to get a natural environment.

Both Noor Jahan and Madhubala developed multiple health problems at the zoo. Both the elephants were severely affected by traffic noise on the road near Karachi Zoo.

Elephants have many times better sense of hearing and smell than humans; keeping them in a noisy and smelly place like Garden was torturous.

Dr Khalil said the environment of the Safari Park was pleasant and suitable for elephants. The elephants would have ample space with lots of water and some trees too.

The Four Paws team also inspected the health of the elephants Sonia and Malika in the Safari Park and declared it satisfactory. The Safari Park has an area of 1.5 acres reserved for Sonia and the Malika, while another 3.5 acres area was allocated for Madhubala.

Madhubala, a 16-year-old elephant who suffered for years from a dental infection and pain caused by a broken tusk, finally got relief after undergoing treatment while under unique standing sedation when Four Paws visited her. Madhubala was one of four African elephants being treated in Karachi by an eight-member team from the global animal welfare group Four Paws, which in 2020 relocated Kaavan, an elephant dubbed the world’s loneliest, to Cambodia from Islamabad. Madhubala’s eyes were taped shut, her legs tied to side grills to support her during sedation and the subsequent treatment at the Karachi Zoo. The veterinarians used drills and other heavy surgical tools to extract the infected tusk, which came out in bits and pieces.

“Due to long-term inflammation, the tissue is so fragile and thin it’s not possible to take it out at once; it is breakable,” said,” Dr. Marina Ivanova said, while showing reporters the extracted tusk.

An endoscopy before the procedure showed the full tusk inside measured 31 centimeters (12.2 inches), she said. “It is now important for us to focus on postsurgical treatment; removing the tusk would open a big wound, so this wound needs daily cleaning,” she added.

During the five- to six-hour procedure, Madhubala did not resist as she was kept sedated. “Today we are happy to start the first unique procedure at the Zoo in a standing position, not in sleeping or complete anesthesia, as it could be risky for the elephant and could be fatal, which we don’t want,” team leader Dr. Aamir Khalil said.

The other elephants were in a much better state as their foot treatment started two months ago, Khalil said, adding that the group had more work to do to improve the welfare of the animals.

Their visit followed an order by the Sindh High Court (SHC) in Karachi in 2022 for Four Paws to assess the health of the animals after local animal rights activists had raised concerns in court about their well-being.

“Madhubala was with Noor Jahan for many years. That is why tests are being conducted. Blood tests, x-rays, and ultrasound were done,” said Dr. Amir Khalil. He added that Madhubala is also suffering from mental stress and that the test reports will decide whether or not she will be safe to be shifted to Safari Park. He stressed that elephants require a prominent suitable place for living, and there is a need to create a sanctuary for them to live in a natural environment. “One elephant needs about 1.5 acres of land,” he added.

In order to take care of existing and new animals, including elephants, experts from foreign countries will be called for training, and people from here will also be sent abroad for training.

Karachi Zoo director Kanwar Ayub had delayed the transfer of Madhubala from Karachi Zoo to Safari Park until her health report could improve. He said that Madhubala had undergone various tests, and they would wait for the test reports before making any decisions.

In 2009, four elephants were shifted from Tanzania to Karachi Zoo.

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