Lawyer Owais Awan is happy that in May this year, the Islamabad High Court ordered the transfer of a mentally ill Asian elephant named Kaun from the Islamabad Zoo to Cambodia. Owais Awan said, “It is our good fortune that […]
Lawyer Owais Awan is happy that in May this year, the Islamabad High Court ordered the transfer of a mentally ill Asian elephant named Kaun from the Islamabad Zoo to Cambodia.
Owais Awan said, “It is our good fortune that we have judges who not only understand the importance of the purpose of animal welfare but also have a passion for it.”
In 1985, the one-year-old Kaun was handed over by Sri Lanka to the Pakistani government as a gift.
Anis-ur-Rehman, president of the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB), says: “My children and even my grandchildren have grown up watching Kaun. That a beautiful future awaits him and he will live there in peace.
Kaun will be transferred to a Cambodian sanctuary before September, and the court has ordered the board to take over the management of the meadow zoo as well as oversee Kaun’s safe transfer.
The judge also directed that the other 878 animals at the Islamabad Zoo be relocated within 60 days of the court order.
Campaigners around the world, including in Pakistan, have warmly welcomed the decision. However, the court ruling has also forced a constituency to question the importance of such zoos, especially when looking at the dozens of reported cases of animal exploitation in different cities of Pakistan.
The elephant that sparked the campaign
A report submitted to the court detailed the issues related to the treatment of Kaun and referred to it in the judgment. It said the elephant was living in “inappropriate” conditions related to its “physical, social and behavioral needs”. It has been regularly chained and isolated in a small compound since 2012. His food is ‘substandard’ and ‘insufficient’, and his mahouts or guards have a ‘negative relationship’ with him.
In 2015, a student named Samar Khan launched an online petition to draw the world’s attention to the plight of elephants.
Veterinarian Samar Khan recalled his campaign, calling Kaun’s release “almost unrealistic.”
“A lot of people felt his pain, and his emotional fan base grew,” he told Third Pool. People also protested outside Pakistani embassies.
He later created a Facebook page to share Kaun’s story with the public.
Dr. Samar believed that social media was a powerful tool. It provided an opportunity for people from all over the world to come together on a single platform and hold zoo officials accountable.
“People started tagging celebrities in tweets,” he said. We created an e-mail template and used it to send letters to government officials daily through hundreds of people. American pop singer Cher was one of the participants in the campaign.
Anis-ur-Rehman said the shareholder organization, Free the Wild, would now fund relocation. “The process is complex and will require a lot of paperwork,” he said. Expert vets will then examine whether Kaun is physically and mentally fit for the flight. Once these requirements are met, a steel cage will be built and Kaun will be trained to go into it, which can take 2 to 4 weeks.
In front of issues
Although people are welcoming Kaun’s freedom, Azmi Khan, the director of biodiversity at WWF Pakistan, has some reservations. She was among those who presented evidence to the court during the case, saying transport could cause severe stress to an animal. He said, “God willing, if something happens during this transition, who will accept the responsibility?”
Azmi Khan also expressed concern over whether Kaun would be able to adjust to his new life. “Given the expected average zoo life expectancy of an Asian elephant, Kaun has spent most of his life. Go so that his standard of living is better and he is more active than before.
The average age of Asian elephants captured in Europe is 47.6 years and in North America it is 41.9 years. They can live in the wild for up to 60 years. The endangered Asian elephant has been red-listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
However, this whole incident has forced Azmi Khan to come to a single conclusion. “Our government must make a strategic decision not to invite any more elephants to our zoos,” he said. Because the latter cannot meet their ‘complex social and psychological needs’.
There is no limit to abuse
Despite the international attention drawn to Kaun’s story, little has changed in Pakistan’s public zoos. The recent deaths of other zoo animals have sparked a new debate over whether there should be a zoo in Pakistan.
Islamabad High Court Chief Justice Athar Minallah wrote in his 67-page judgment that “zoos serve no purpose other than to show people their prisoners as exhibits.”
In July, the lion and tigress died while being transferred from the meadow zoo to a safe place in Kasur district of Punjab. According to Azmi Khan, the decision to relocate him “in this hot and humid season” reflects “incompetence and cruelty”.
A giraffe was found dead at the Peshawar Zoo in May this year, while giraffes have recently died in Karachi and Lahore. This year, three blue cows or blue bulls and one ostrich have died at the Marghzar Zoo.
In 2018, an Asian lion died of tuberculosis. In 2014, a Bengal lion died of an unknown disease and in 2011, four lion cubs died. It all happened at the Karachi Zoo.
Documentary filmmaker and co-founder of the Pakistan Animal Welfare Society, Mahira Omar, tweeted: “Earlier this year, we filmed a tiger at the Lahore Zoo with signs of zoochosis.” He made a video showing the tiger circling his empty barren cage and provoking the spectators.
Azmi Khan said that this abuse could be attributed to several factors.
Some zoos, such as Marghzar, lack funding, which obviously means that not much money is available for animal care. However, he also said that the biggest problem for many zoos in Pakistan is the lack of standards that meet the requirements for basic animal care, breed-specific specialty features and guidance for management. Are gone This problem is exacerbated by untrained zoo staff. Azmi Khan said some guards, often underpaid, could not read or write.
“There are many zoos around the world that provide training and even scholarships to zoo keepers,” he said. “Our zoo staff should also be sent there so that they can be free from the traditional methods of caring for animals,” said Azmi Khan. “Most of us have a laid back attitude when it comes to painting a picture about animals.”
Discussion on the zoo
Public outrage over the abuse has forced some to consider the concept of a zoo. Muhammad bin Naveed, a volunteer and architect at Friends of Islamabad Zoo, a group of animal philanthropists based in Islamabad, said: “I want to turn this meadow into a family park where people can have a picnic.”
Supporting this view, Anis-ur-Rehman of IWMB said, “We should not have zoos and we should not set up more zoos.” “Keeping animals behind bars sends the wrong message to our children,” he said.
But at the same time, Anis-ur-Rehman says that suddenly releasing zoo animals would be cruel. “They will not be able to survive,” he said. According to him, zoos need to be maintained until the animals die their natural death.
Azmi Khan, who is affiliated with the WWF, has a moderate position. “I’m not against zoos because they have a lot of potential to raise public awareness about animals and animal welfare,” he said.
He said there was a need to work on public and private zoos, as well as a database of foreign animal owners. He emphasized the importance of ‘legislation and standards related to the zoo’ so that when the courts take up animal cases, they can look after the well-being of all the animals in the zoo.
Similarly, Dr. Samar, who fell in love with animals during his childhood visit to the zoo, said that a responsible zoo can help in the protection, research and rehabilitation of wild animals. “A well-run zoo with better resources can inspire people to love wildlife and protect it,” she said.