Unsafe havens: Country’s zoos downward trajectory continues

Distressed animals and inadequate facilities have become the hallmarks of enclosures across the nation



The death of a rare breed giraffe at the Lahore Zoo has once again highlighted the problems of short-staffing, distressed animals, inadequate facilities - leading to questions like whether it is time to abandon zoos altogether.

The autopsy report revealed that the giraffe, which was a resident of the zoo since 2018, died due to a liver disease, however, sources told the Express Tribune that the zoo staff while aware that the giraffe was sick did not have the necessary facilities to identify the cause of illness in the giraffe.

“Some animals, such as giraffes, lions, tigers, rhinos, and hippopotamuses, cannot be taken to an animal hospital if they are sick so we call experts to the zoo,” the Deputy Director of Lahore Zoo, Kiran Saleem, told Express Tribune, further adding that while the zoo had the capacity to surgically operate on smaller animals in-house for larger animals they had to seek the services of private companies. While the Lahore zoo administration will now look to replace the giraffe, the shortage of specialized staff plays a big role in the deaths of animals in zoos across the country, as per experts.

For instance, the Lahore zoo, which is one of the largest in the country, has only 66 regular employees and 150 daily wage earners. Similarly, the Karachi Zoo, which covers a mammoth 43 acres of land and is home to about 750 animals and birds, housed in 117 cages - only a measly 14 keepers are responsible for the feeding, caring, and cleaning of the cages of the zoo’s furry occupants.

The staff shortages at the Karachi zoo are not recent though, the historic zoo has not recruited additional workforce since 1997 due to a ban on new recruits by the Sindh government - a period of 25 years.Syed Khursheed Ali, a wildlife journalist who has reported on the running of the Karachi zoo, where a female lion recently died due to a highly contagious disease, termed the staffing situation as problematic, while talking to the Express Tribune.

Ali said that if appointments were not made soon at the zoo, the existing staff would crumble under the pressure of tending to so many animals and birds. “The existing staff needs relief and new recruitments are the only way to sort the current issues of the zoo amicably,” he suggested.

Due to inexperienced staff, untimely treatment, and the lack of favorable environment for animals, some 1,500 kilometers away from Karachi, the Peshawar Zoo, which was officially opened to the public in 2018 and houses 150 animals, the tale is the same - 40 valuable animals have died in a span of 4 years.

Read: Inadequate facilities : Multiple deaths haunt Peshawar’s lone zoo

The Peshawar High Court has also taken notice of the high number of deaths at the zoo and asked for a report on the condition of the other animals. Sources familiar with the running of the zoo informed the Express Tribune that only one veterinary doctor and four staff members at the zoo are responsible for 150 animals; moreover, the zoo is missing a veterinary lab. Do we still need zoos? Apart from the lack of dedicated staff, loneliness and imprisonment are amongst the significant causes of death of the animals in the country’s zoos.

Experts believe that when wild animals are kept in cramped cages, they become depressed and die of various diseases; that is why zoos are being shut down in many parts of the world today and given the state of the country’s zoos perhaps it was time we should follow suit. Azmi Khan, a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) activist, said that living in tight cages has adverse effects on the health of animals, and not all zoos have the same cages and atmosphere.

“Therefore, it is important to provide an environment for animals and birds that is close to the natural environment they thrive in instead of cramped cages,” Khan said. Similarly, Badar Muneer, Chairman of the Task Force for Forests and Wildlife, while talking to the Express Tribune, said, “in today's modern world, animals are not kept in cramped cages like in the past, but spacious spaces so that they do not feel like they are in captivity.”


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