Fifty-seven lonely years and counting

Brought to Pakistan in 1971, Lahore Zoo’s only cassowary has spent a life without a female partner

Asif Mehmood May 16, 2020

LAHORE: Talk about the Lahore Zoo and the most common animals that come to mind are big cats, giraffes, and deer. Little attention, however, is paid to the cassowary dwelling therein – one of the most exotic residents of the zoo – and the only one in Pakistan – who has been living a solitary, caged life for the past 57 years.

Speaking to The Express Tribune, Lahore Zoo Director Chaudhry Shafqat Ali said there are many rare breeds of animals and birds in the zoo but cassowary is one of its kind. Sadly, however, the zoo could not manage to bring a partner for the bird.

“Despite being lonely, the bird has managed to live for almost six decades here at the zoo,” he said.

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According to the zoo administration, cassowary belongs to the ostrich family. They are large and are flightless birds with bristly feathers. They are native to the tropical forests of south-east Asia and Australia.

“They are attractive looking birds, with a blue face, two red wattles (flaps of skin) hanging from their neck and a hollow, helmet-like structure atop their heads,” a zoo official said. “Despite their looks, however, they are extremely aggressive birds. If they feel threatened, they can inflict fatal injuries with the help of their dagger-like claws.”

The facility’s Veterinary Officer Dr Rizwan Khan said that cassowary is the oldest and weakest resident of the Lahore Zoo. According to its records, the bird was brought to the zoo from England on October 22, 1971, when it was about six years old.

“Our cassowary is now almost 57 years old. It is the oldest resident of the zoo and is the only one in Pakistan,” he said. He added that a cassowary has a life expectancy of about 40 years, but this unique and rare bird at the Lahore Zoo has seen fifty-five springs.

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“It is also interesting to note that the female lays her eggs and moves to another place, while the male incubates the young and raises them,” Dr Rizwan said. “A cassowary can tear the chest of its ‘enemy’ if it feels threatened with one powerful kick, therefore, maintaining suitable distance is necessary.”

He said that unlike its cousins – ostriches and emus – cassowaries do not show a friendly attitude toward humans and they often attack zookeepers. Every year, cassowary attacks claim the lives of various animals across the globe, while many others sustain injuries.

The doctor added that the animal is well-taken care of at the zoo. It is fed roasted grams, fruits, millet, corn and barley. “At the Lahore Zoo, there is a Jamun tree in cassowary’s cage, from which it eats the fallen fruits with gusto,” he said. “Most of its time, however, is spent in a room built inside the cage and it rarely goes out because it is a solitary animal,” The Zoo’s Education Officer, Karan Saleem said.

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“Despite the administration’s continuous efforts, the zoo could not bring a female for the cassowary. We contacted many countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and Malaysia in this regard, but they could not get it from anywhere,” Saleem revealed.

“One of the main reasons for the unavailability of cassowaries is that they are very rare and have no tendency to be farmed like ostriches or emus.”

Published in The Express Tribune, May 16th, 2020.