Saheli’s body lay skinless in her cage at the Marghazar Zoo. Two teams from the Natural Museum Shakarparian and National Veterinary Laboratory took samples from her to be sent for post-mortem.
The body was surrounded by huge slabs of ice, while the zoo officials splashed antiseptic water nearby. They went in and out of the cordoned-off cage, outside which a crane stood parked.
But the circumstances under which the 22-year-old Sri Lankan elephant died weren’t any clearer on Wednesday. Dr Saleem Sulheri, a veterinarian at the zoo, told The Express Tribune that post-mortem would take up about two days.
“They have taken some samples of tongue, stomach, heart and other parts of the elephant for post-mortem, so we have to wait a few more days,” said Sulheri.
He added there is no equipment available to lift the body in one piece, so it will have be chopped into pieces. The skin, teeth and feet of the elephant would be taken to Natural Museum Shakarparian for preservation, where the body would be stuffed and skeleton preserved.
Concerns over incident
Saheli’s death has raised many concerns, especially in the veterinary community. Marghazar Zoo Senior Consultant Dr Rana said he was not contacted when she got injured. “They did not inform me that she was unwell,” he said. Another zoo official said the death indicates that the zoo did not have the capacity to treat the animal. “This is not a zoo, [it’s] an animal hoarding facility.”
World Wide Fund for Nature Biodiversity Director Uzma Khan said that foot conditions are one of the reasons for mortality amongst elephants. The animals are at a greater risk of such injuries when they are tied to the ground for a long time, which can even lead to arthritis, she added.
She cited a research commissioned in UK, which states that an elephant can only be tied while undergoing surgery. She added that elephant management is a tricky subject. “They need open space and an enclosure big enough to keep away from other animals. But that is not the case [in Marghazar Zoo.”
If elephants are not kept in a good environment, they suffer psychologically that can also contribute to their sickness, she added. “An elephant tied up is like a person in solitary confinement,” said Khan.
She said that of all the zoos in Pakistan only Karachi Zoo has just recently improved its elephant enclosure whereas Lahore Zoo is planning to renovate soon.
‘No legislation to keep animals safe in zoos’
Khan said that Pakistan does not have legislation for zoos. India has a central zoo authority that maintains a database of zoos — they shutdown zoos that fail to live up to standards.
There are six elephants remaining in zoos in Pakistan: two in Karachi Zoo, two in Karachi Safari, one in Lahore Zoo and now one in Marghazar Zoo Islamabad.
But without legislation, there is little that can be done. As Khan put it, “How do you monitor a zoo without set standards?”
Published in The Express Tribune, May 3rd, 2012.