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The Plight of Animals in Captivity in Karachi

Karachi Zoo.

Where the experience of captivity in itself withdraws animals into a depressing life of immobility and isolation, the absence of testing facilities and licensed veterinarians in zoos across Karachi, leaves hundreds of mammals hanging between infirmity and death.

The April 2023 death of the female elephant Nur Jehan in the Karachi Zoo drew increased attention to the dire unavailability of a laboratory and scanning service for ailing animals in the Karachi Zoo and Safari Park.

The Karachi Zoo and Safari Park together are home to almost 900 animals from a large variety of species, all of whom go without essential health checkups like blood and live paneling and X-rays and ultrasounds from approved medical personnel.

The dead elephant, Nur Jehan’s, blood and biopsy samples had to be sent to a facility in Lahore for postmortem testing because the Karachi Zoo lacks a laboratory. Similarly, veterinarians were summoned from Lahore and Egypt for her postmortem examination because the zoo does not have any animal doctors either. This confirms the paucity of adequate healthcare facilities in zoos across Karachi, the Sindh Livestock and Fisheries Department places the entire blame of the ordeal on the KMC, whose inefficiency culminated in the underdevelopment of animal healthcare services in the two zoos.

“The affairs of zoos were brought under the purview of the KMC under the Local Government Ordinance in 2000; the negligence of the officials has instigated the deplorable state of affairs in the zoos,” revealed Dr. Nazir Kalhoro, Director Veterinary at the Sindh Livestock and Fisheries Department, who further informed that Nur Jehan could have survived had her three-month old injury been treated in a timely manner.

Furthermore, Dr. Kalhoro also highlighted the alarmingly low veterinarian-animal ratio in the city, which has one veterinary physician for every 0.5 million animals, despite international standards of animal protection necessitating one doctor for every 1000 animals.

Even the few veterinarians that are available, are expected to pursue only a single five-year degree in fundamental veterinary medicine, called the Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine, from the Tando Allahyar University, which does not provide further professional training to the graduated doctors.

Moreover, no official organization for the registration of veterinary doctors in Sindh, exists till date, implying that most of the veterinary doctors who advice zoos and treat sick animals, are unlicensed and hence their diet recommendations and treatment plans are unscientific, rarely proving effective in improving the health profiles of the animals.

It is this overall culture of neglect in zoos which has claimed the lives of animals like Nur Jehan and the tigress, who passed away in Karachi Zoo last year, and which continues to jeopardize the health of existing mammals in the zoos.

“Currently, a 22-year old tigress in Karachi Zoo is suffering from an eye impairment,” conceded Kunwar Ayub, Director of the Karachi Zoo.

The diagnosis was made after the first round of health checkups for animals was initiated in the zoo. After Nur Jehan’s death, the zoo administration has started paying serious attention to the testing of animals and even plans to build a purpose-built hospital in the future.

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