Karachi Zoo: A threat to endangered animals?

We’ve all heard stories of lions parading around in cages looking more emaciated than the top models of the country.

Saba Khalid July 17, 2012
The other day, my two-year old nephew would not let go of The Express Tribune. On the front page, there was a picture of a large white lion. While he didn't understand the headline “South African white lions to land in Karachi”, he sat transfixed on the floor with the page and roared over and over again like he was the big bad Scar from The Lion King.

Unfortunately, I could not be as ecstatic about the picture as my nephew.

The Karachi Metropolitan Corporation imported these white lions at a price of Rs10 million. A glass enclosure is being built from a special material that is used for making airplane windows. Considering that the zoo’s entry fee is Rs5 for adults, it will be more than a few years before the zoo can actually break even on this new investment. I just hope that these lions are still alive by the time that happens.

I say this only because we've all heard stories of lions parading around in cages looking more emaciated than the top models of the country. Just last year, three cubs were found dead and one allegedly eaten by a lioness. With news of reptiles freezing to death, poorly designed enclosures and unqualified caretakers making the rounds, isn’t it time we close the doors to this establishment and return these animals to conservationists?

But the former director of the zoo Bashir Sadozai thought this was a completely justified and natural move. He said,
“White lions do not need special caretakers. The staff is well trained to handle the different kinds of lions. We have done all the assessments in this case.”

He’s right in one way – the white lion cannot survive in the wild and would be better off in a zoo. But wouldn’t you agree that even the wild has to be mild compared to the conditions of the Karachi zoo?

I checked online to see if a debate has started on the futility of caging these animals. But the debate was less thought-provoking and more comical.
Abb tou sher bhee goray ayein gay” said one.

Another one read,
“They must have done something seriously wrong, why else would they be in Pakistan?”

My favourite was,
“Welcome lions to the land of the mullahs, lionesses, bring your burqas!”

None of us realise how special these cats are with their prophetic long, white beards. White lions were once regarded as ‘divine’ by locals and represented the good that is to be found in all creatures. Referred to as ‘the children of the sun god’, they are a genetic rarity and occur in only one region — Timbavati.

Shamans believe that killing a ‘lion sun god’ is blasphemous and the ultimate form of disrespect to nature. They also believe that the way humans treat the lion determines how nature will treat humans. Given the zoo’s track record, it wouldn’t be long before we invoke nature’s terrible wrath upon us.

Why are we really doing this?

Does the entertainment value that the zoo provides to intrigued children trump the rights of these endangered animals? It’s important for kids to see these animals in all their glory but if my nephew knew the cost, even he would be happier with just a YouTube video.

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Read more by Saba here. 
Saba Khalid A blogger for Rolling Stone magazine, a contributor to Kulturaustauch and Musikexpres, Saba is an Institute for Foreign Affairs (IFA) Cross Culture scholar for the year 2012 who also teaches creative writing to young aspiring writers. She blogs at www.thecityalive.com and can be found on instagram as @thecityalive
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.

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