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Pakistan closes Margazar Zoo, Kaawan’s former elephant home, plans conservation park

Six weeks ago, Kaawan was finally released from prison after a crusader Pakistani judge became interested in the zoo’s problems and foreign activists led by singer Cher took over his plight. On November 30, the long-suffering elephant was taken in a specially made steel box to a shrine in Cambodia. Animal lovers around the world cheered.

But for years, as the zoo attracted thousands of visitors, many of its animals met harsh or unknown fates. Human rights groups and journalists say the animals were chronically malnourished and poorly visited when they were sick. Dozens died, often for reasons that were never explained. Others have disappeared or are said to have been sold for profit.

“There was only one qualified veterinarian at the zoo, and none of the other staff were trained to manage or care for the animals,”

; said Mohammad bin Naviz, founder of an informal group called Friends of the Islamabad Zoo. “We visited all the time and tried to point out the problems we saw, but no one listened to them.” He said workers were often hired through political connections or earned money from concessions. “Nobody cares.”

The Margazar Zoo is already closed, its cages are empty, the grounds for turning it into a modern park for wildlife protection. Malik Amin Aslam, a senior official at the Ministry of Climate Change, said the closure had created “an opportunity to start from scratch and do things right”. He accused most of the zoo’s previous problems of “mismanagement”.

“The lesson is clear,” he said. “We have to take care of our animals and nature. We need to have a proper administration, not allow unreliable people to answer. “

Other city zoos in Pakistan have had similar problems. A giraffe died a few weeks ago at the Peshawar Zoo in northwestern Pakistan, and recently found lions starving at the Karachi Zoo. The sprawling Lahore Zoo, more than 150 years old, has lost chimpanzees, Bengal tigers and black bears in recent years, and other animals are showing signs of severe psychological illness.

Cruel animal practices continue to be out of the public eye, including dog fighting and bear bait. Two Himalayan brown bears at the Islamabad Zoo were once “dancing bears” who were forced to perform in public, their teeth removed and their muzzles pierced with a rope. They were moved to a wildlife sanctuary in Jordan last month in poor health.

The Islamabad Zoo, a landmark attraction in the country’s capital since it opened in 1978, has been a growing concern among animal lovers for years. Last spring, the group applied to the Islamabad Supreme Court for help. In May, Chief Justice Atar Minala issued a sharp 67-page statement finding that the zoo had kept its animals in “extremely disturbing” and “shockingly deplorable conditions,” exposing them for fun while neglecting their health and well-being.

Faced with one of the petitioners’ demands that animals in the Muslim nation be declared to have their own “inhuman” rights, Minala quoted the Qur’an and noted that “Islam views animals as living beings and creations of Allah.” They deserve care and compassion. ”

He also cites modern rulings from around the world in which judges have ordered suffering elephants, orangutans and killer whales released from captivity. “While it can be argued that a chimpanzee is not a ‘human,'” one decision said, “there is no doubt that this is not just something. “

The past described in detail the situation of the animals from Margazar. The shaking of Kaavan, he writes, is “an obvious indication of loneliness, suffering and suffering.” The African lions were “visibly malnourished.” The Himalayan brown bears were locked in “extremely small” cement enclosures, one of which needed “immediate medical attention” for a diseased breast operation that was heavily infected.

The decision caused a stir. Some Pakistanis expressed gratitude and appreciation; others said the judge had brought shame and disgrace to their country. The controversy has escalated as plans have been worked out to send Kaavan to Cambodia and the sick brown bears to Jordan. A member of the Islamabad Wildlife Council called the relocations “a shameful endorsement by international propaganda that Pakistan is incompetent and cruel to animals.”

But the frantic efforts to move so many animals led to a horrific tragedy that seemed to solidify that image. The two lions were to move to a private farm in Lahore, 170 miles away. To force them into a travel cage, two untrained manipulators set fire to their enclosure, then immediately loaded the terrified couple into a truck. Both soon died of suffocation, stress, and smoke inhalation.

Today, the dilapidated lion cage sits empty, covered with rusty wire and a torn towel. It seems too small to contain two powerful and flexible creatures that have never left its borders. Nearby is a sign with a picture of two majestic lions in the African wild and describes them as highly social animals, whose roar can be heard at a great distance at sunrise and sunset.

The rescue of Kaawan, organized by the International Veterinary Charitable Organization Four Paws, and the death of the lions have led some Pakistanis to wonder why they have long enjoyed visiting the zoo without thinking about how the animals live in captivity.

“Pakistan is not a disgusting place, unable to keep animals. It’s just that animals weren’t on the priority list, “compared to major issues such as health and education, a reader told the Zora newspaper. Many people did not know that Kaavan was suffering until he made headlines, Saadiyah Oways said. “Once the story has been told, we know that wild animals experience the same pain as us. They can be as lonely as we feel. “

Pakistan’s climate ministry took control of the Margazar Zoo in early 2020 amid complaints about the conditions. The ministry is now working to rediscover the 82-acre campus as a protected park with a training center for children and outdoor living areas for iconic and endangered animals born in Pakistan. It needs to be managed and revised through the new Islamabad Wildlife Board.

On a warm day in December, Rina Syed Khan, the new chairman of the board, walked among the empty fences of the zoo and weed paths, describing ambitious plans for the future. She stopped silently at the lion cage, pointed to the concrete water pipe where the Himalayan bears had tried to “hibernate,” and found herself in the empty hangar of Kaavan, still covered in reed dust.

“Finally, there is a happy ending to the long and winding history of the Islamabad Zoo. It’s over, “she said. “Let’s start over and try to do better.”

At the front gate, a towering gray cement elephant raised its trunk to greet or say goodbye.

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