Lockdown effects: Karachi Zoo animals desperate for human interaction

Animals feel abandoned and are agitated and gloomy because of prolonged loneliness

Shakir Sultan June 22, 2020
KARACHI: Since the closure of the Karachi Zoo in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and the consequent lockdown in the city, animals living therein have started feeling lonely and irritated, zoo officials said.

Per an official, many animals were brought to the zoo as cubs and they have grown up seeing and interacting with human beings. As there have been no visitors for the past three and a half months, animals have started demonstrating brooding moods and seem to be suffering from emotional stress due to desolation.

Since the imposition of the lockdown, the Sindh government temporarily closed the zoo and prohibited the entrance of any unnecessary individuals into the premises. The decision was made not only to stop large gatherings of people in the zoo but also to save animals from the virus after a tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

“Although employees are allowed to enter the zoo to feed the animals, clean their cages, and for their maintenance, animals have been reacting strangely toward the new, lonely atmosphere,” the zoo official said. “They probably feel abandoned and are in a state of agitation and gloominess because of prolonged loneliness.”

The Karachi Zoo would usually open at 8am for visitors. Before that, the zoo staff would move the animals to another part of the closure to clean, dry and wash the cages. Once the zoo opened, people would start visiting it with their families early in the morning, when the animals are most active.

“Even those animals which live a solitary life in the wild have been domesticated in the zoo and therefore, human interaction has become crucial to their survival,” he said.

People from all over the country come to the Karachi Zoo with their children for entertainment. On normal days, people would continue to flock to the zoo until late in the evening.

“Most people brought food for the animals to show their love and affection. Animals too had become accustomed to that routine and would start showing signs of excitement as soon as people would go near the cages,” the official said.

He added that children loved to feed bananas and other fruits to the monkeys, bears and the elephant. Some people also brought nuts and seeds for the birds. “The animals looked forward to that every day. But the sudden change in their routine has left them confused,” the official explained.

Zoo animals are not free to move around like they do in the wild. Besides, perpetual confinement often leads to distress. When people visit the cages and feed them, animals naturally develop a bond with humans as a form of adaptability.

“Seeing and interacting with humans everyday was the only thing that gave these animals some respite and joy,” the officials said. “The pandemic has not only affected humans, but it has also taken a toll on the emotional health of zoo animals. They are unhappy and desperate for visitors.”

He said that many animals were not showing much interest in food these days. Earlier, the sight of food would make them instantly excited but not so much anymore because of the feeling of desolation.

“Every morning, zoo animals, including lions, monkeys, and the elephant, anxiously look for people. When they see nothing except for quietude, they start howling and growling in frustration, which is not normal,” he said. “They cling to the nets of their cages and wait for humans every morning. This is a very sad sight to witness.”

Published in The Express Tribune, June 22nd, 2020.


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