Animal cruelty in Pakistan

Just because Pakistan is not a rich country does not provide a legitimate excuse for the maltreatment of animals

Syed Mohammad Ali October 01, 2021
The writer is an academic and researcher. He is also the author of Development, Poverty, and Power in Pakistan, available from Routledge


“The indifference, callousness, and contempt that so many people exhibit toward animals is evil first because it results in great suffering in animals, and second because it results in an incalculably great impoverishment of the human spirit.” I did not pen these words. Albert Einstein did. Islam also forbids treating animals cruelly or killing them except for food. Zabiha rules stipulate how an animal to be slaughtered must not be mistreated or caused undue pain. Yet, animal cruelty is rampant and exists in varied forms in countries like ours.

We live in a country where political leaders have been known to hold political rallies with caged and chained lions, and where animals like turtles given away as party favours at children’s birthdays. Many well-to-do people pay a lot of money to purchase expensive cats, dogs, or birds but treat them callously. Cruelty towards animals is not the reserve of rich people only. Cruelty to animals especially donkeys, horses and mules is also widespread. These animals are overworked, under-fed, and harshly beaten by their owners.

Some recent attempts at humane dog population management and mass vaccinations in Karachi have dissipated. Instead, the recent uproar following the negligence of animal owners and attacks by guard dogs on pedestrians in Karachi unleashed another unwarranted attacks on dogs all over the country. Several neighbourhoods started instigating municipal organisations to shoot stray dogs on sight. Use of strychnine poison was once again allowed to poison dogs.

There is a general absence of adequate laws related to animal welfare and animal slaughter, and the existing laws that exist are not adequately implemented. Pakistan’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (1890) aims to protect many animals, including draught animals. This law is however outdated and does not reflect the prevalent scientific, cultural, or commercial compulsions pertaining to animal welfare. It is time to update this law to protect both pet and wild animals, to institute mechanisms for their care, and define consequence for those who are neglectful towards animals.

It is encouraging that the Halal Authority Act (2015) has not only mandated humane treatment of animals throughout the slaughter process, but also prohibited animals from seeing one another being slaughtered. However, there has been little implementation of this law.

While animal abandonment is illegal in Pakistan, there is scant regulation on how animal owners should care for their animals. Moreover, zoos across Pakistan are notorious for their poor conditions. Prompted by international criticism over the Islamabad zoo’s maltreatment of the elephant, Kaavan, the Islamabad High Court issued an unprecedented ruling last year. It ordered that the entire zoo of over four hundred animals to be closed and all the animals within it to be transferred to appropriate wildlife sanctuaries in the short period of two months. The rush to empty the zoo caused the death of a pair of lions which passed away, two days apart, during their transfer from the zoo to a farmhouse in Kasur city instead of a sanctuary as had been directly by the court.

Pakistan also urgently needs to enact legislation detailing specific welfare requirements for the rearing of farm animals during distinct phases of rearing, transport, and slaughter. Such requirements must be legally binding and species-specific and aligned with international animal welfare standards. Regular inspections of farms and slaughter establishments would have to be carried out with a special focus on animal welfare or the situation on the ground will not change for the better.

Provincial governments can and should develop their own wildlife and animal protection laws but the responsibility for improving animal welfare in the country must ultimately be assigned to a national level ministry. Animal Welfare Committees which include members of animal welfare organisations can advise the government concerning animal welfare policies and solutions. Just because Pakistan is not a rich country does not provide a legitimate excuse for the rampant maltreatment of animals within our society, and the apathy of state institutions towards this issue.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 1st, 2021.

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