KARACHI: With its collection of various exotic species, Safari Park was once an iconic recreation spot for the denizens of Karachi. But as the metropolis grew over the years, the numbers of the park’s many visitors dwindled.
With the situation yet to improve, the animals of Safari Park now face a new threat on account of new management with no zoological or veterinary expertise.
On the directives of the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC), the administration and control of Safari Park – together with Aladdin Park – has been taken away from the department of recreation and handed over to the department of parks and horticulture.
Safari Park has already appointed non-technical officers on many important posts and with this new move, the park will be completely deprived of wildlife experts, zoologists and veterinary doctors. To top it off, the department of parks and horticulture will utilise 109 acres of the park’s territory to start a commercial theme park project.
In the past, the department of recreation has been looking after the management of Karachi Zoo, Landhi-Korangi Zoo, Safari Park and Aladdin Park.
The decision was made on the directives of Karachi Mayor Wasim Akhtar, after which KMC’s human resource department issued a notification which said that all the financial and administrative activities of the parks will now rest with the department of parks and horticulture.
An officer at Safari park, who requested anonymity, told The Express Tribune that the decision to hand over the park to a department, which has no expertise in the field, will create problems because the inexperienced staffers will not be able to understand the needs and moods of the animals. Moreover, they will not be aware of the care-taking techniques necessary to maintain wildlife.
“All the experts, zoologists and veterinary doctors have been either assigned to Karachi Zoo or the Landhi-Korangi Zoo, but they were also looking after the animals at Safari Park,” he said.
After the management of the park will be assigned to the department of parks and horticulture, the experts will not be able to work at Safari Park anymore.
“The post of director at Safari Park is technical in nature and, ideally, it should have been assigned to someone with a degree in Zoology or Veterinary Sciences. The current director of the park, however, does not have the required qualifications and only has experience in the field of land management,” the officer detailed.
Dr Kazim, an experienced veterinary doctor who was serving at Safari Park, retried last month.
The officer further explained that over the past 15 years, commercial activities have considerably increased in the park; rides and swings and noisy go-karts have been installed in the parks to provide short-term entertainment to children. As a result, children have lost interest in nature and animals.
“In the past, there were around 600 species of animals in the park, which have now been reduced to 300,” the officer said.
It may be recalled that the Supreme Court of Pakistan had issued clear directives regarding the use of land, according to which a piece of land which has been designated for a specific purpose must only be used for that, and no commercial activities could be carried out on that land.
At present, Safari Park is spread over 207 acres of land of which around 100 acres has been reserved for open enclosures for wild animals. The amusement park section is based on three acres of land which is being run by a private company. The Go Aish Adventure Park, which was spread over another 10 acres of land, has been closed for the past four years.
The officer also told The Express Tribune that the actual intention of handing over the control of the park to the department of parks and horticulture is to commercialise a chunk of the land and turn it into a theme park based on 109 acres of land. He said that the plan was devised a year ago and has already been approved by the KMC. It has now been sent for Sindh government’s final approval.
When approached, the former chairperson of Karachi University’s Zoology Department, Sohail Barkati, said that the appointment of a wild life expert at Safari Park is mandatory to look after the animals as it is a standard requirement across the world.
“Qualified experts are hired by zoos and safaris throughout the world as they are aware of animals’ lifestyle, needs, and behaviours,” he said. “These things are crucial for taking care of the animals’ health.”
Barkati expressed his grief over Safari Park being used for other purposes like amusement parks, events, and trade activities and said that two pleasures cannot be bought in one ticket.
“Safari Park was established with the aim of providing a natural habitat to animals and if amusement park rides will be installed near their enclosures, the animals will get disturbed and it will impact their health,” he warned.
He also added that if the government wants to increase revenue from Safari Park then, like international safaris, they should keep lions, zebras, hippopotamus and various other types of animals, which will attract the interest of people, and they will readily come to see them. In this way, the park will be able to increase its revenue as well.
Safari Park Director Kunwar Ayub – who has been holding the post for the past two years – told The Express Tribune that his post is not technical in nature but it requires administrative experience – an area wherein he is quite well-versed.
“In the past, Safari Park and Aladdin Park have already functioned under the department of parks and horticulture, therefore, it is a positive development that the department is being assigned the administrative control of the park once again,” he said.
He added that Safari Park is spread over 207 acres of land and the KMC is trying to utilise the land in the best possible way so that residents of Karachi are provided with all the facilities. He also rejected the claim that the change of management will affect the health and well-being of the animals, adding that the existing amusement park is situated at a considerable distance from animal enclosures, therefore, they are not disturbed by the activities at all.
“Due to lack of funds, lions and other wild animals cannot be bought by the park, however, at present, we have more than 300 species of birds and animals and the park nourishes them in the best possible way,” he elaborated. “Animals in the park are doing quite well and, if there is a need, they are also sent to Karachi Zoo.”
When questioned about the construction of a theme park within the premises of Safari Park, Ayub said that the plan is still pending with the Sindh government’s Public-Private unit and it will only be implemented after approval.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 4th, 2019.