The wildlife in captivity in various zoos across the country is facing the worst human violence at the hands of incompetent and poorly trained caretakers with no trained veterinarian or animal pathologist to help reclaim captive animals in agony and serious mental trauma causing their deaths.
A recent incident of African elephant Noor Jahan of Karachi Zoo in poor health has again revived the tragedy of maltreated Kavaan of Islamabad Zoo, the loneliest elephant in the world that after spending years of solitude due to the demise of his female partner Saheli developed serious psychological issues and health complications including injured feet and fatigued behavior.
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The Asian elephant was shifted to a sanctuary in Cambodia to spend the rest of his life in peace and free to roam for miles in a jungle near other rescue elephants.
The story of Noor Jahan of Karachi Zoo is similar to that of Kavaan but with a tinge of callous carelessness of the department concerned as the female elephant got injured at the start of this year after the two females had a confrontation that damaged the kidneys and left leg of the elephant leaving her unable to walk and pass urine.
Four Paws, the same organisation that helped in sending Kavaan to Cambodia after necessary rehabilitation had brought four experts to help the ailing Noor Jahan and save her from death as she has developed serious health complications.
Talking to APP, founder of the Society for the Protection of Animal Rights Zain Mustafa said all happening in the Karachi Zoo was predicted by him several years ago when he witnessed the animal management and caretaking by the staff in a highly unprofessional manner sans any remedy available to protect, treat and improve the animal physical, mental and emotional health.
He had been engaged by the Sindh government in the previous tenure in 2017 to redesign the Zoo with better species-appropriate natural habitat, enrichment program-infused enclosures, and trained staff that help relieve the animals’ agony and pain with a holistic improvement in their captive living environments.
Mr. Mustafa alleged that the Karachi Zoo project was shelved when the government changed and it has not been revived yet, leading to the problems being exacerbated today.
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While discussing the Karachi Zoo tragedy, he said there were four elephants in captivity in Karachi, who are all siblings including three females and a male.
The problem is the attitude of our system and its bureaucrats who do not bother about animals as they are considered lesser beings than humans. Their cruel exploitation for entertainment and gaining of wealth is not seen as a crime, he added.
This attitude perpetuates unbridled exploitation of captive wild animals dying not only of physical but also severe mental torture after developing complex psychological and behavioral problems, he added.
“Noor Jahan and her siblings are African elephants who are difficult to rehabilitate in captivity as compared to the Asian elephants who are docile and less aggressive. Moreover, a chimpanzee and a few monkeys are in serious depression after being poorly handled in captivity and are seen often licking their cages’ bars. They are slowly suffering due to psychological issues,” he said.
He also decried the incompetence of Karachi Zoo’s veterinarian care which was unable to cater to the elephants’ needs as Noor Jahan’s liver got damaged and now has only a 30% chance of survival.
Zain Mustafa believed that this whole episode would have a negative impact on the minds of the juvenile who come to see wildlife to learn about exotic animals and ended up with spectacles of dying animals in pathetic health and living conditions.
“This child will never learn about the animal but will realize only that he can control anything if humans are able to control massive wild animals.
Due to witnessing animal cruelty and assault, mental illnesses are on the rise in our society like child abduction, rape, and many other heinous crimes. Behind every such crime there will be some account of animal torture or beating by that individual either male or female,” he noted.
He added that throughout the country there was no trained vet that could provide professional services to handle wildlife properly in such instances.
Vice President of Pakistan Wildlife Foundation Safwan Ahmed said it was very difficult to keep wild animals in captivity as they were habitual of living in a free environment.
However, prolonged stay in captivity turned those animals into highly distressed creatures developing different psychological complications like monkeys shouting and aggressive behavior before humans, lions, or tigers strolling to and fro in the cage without any response or reaction and bears fighting each other.
He added that all these signs indicate that the animals are in poor mental health and need serious intervention by a pathologist who tries to divert the minds of mentally disturbed animals through different games and exercises that help in reliving their mental sickness.