Close down all the zoos

Published: May 3, 2012
The writer is a columnist, a former major of the Pakistan Army and served as press secretary to Benazir Bhutto

The writer is a columnist, a former major of the Pakistan Army and served as press secretary to Benazir Bhutto

For we do not deserve the poor things, the animal haters that we are. While one has long seen and felt the plight of these creatures in the Citadel of Islam, the death of young Saheli, the female Sri Lankan Asian elephant at Marghzar Zoo in Islamabad has really shaken one to the core.

Note that whilst Asian elephants live to an average age of 60-some years, Saheli is dead at just 22 of a sore foot! I ask you! And what has the great CDA done? Suspended her caretaker mahout, Mohammad, possibly the only one who really cared for the animal. News reports suggest that he was crying like a baby at Saheli’s death, intoning repeatedly through copious tears: “She was only one year old when she came into my care, only one year old”. Does nobody else at the zoo, Mohammad’s superiors, carry any of the blame for Saheli’s death? I suppose not, for this is the Land of the Pure where the axe always falls on the weakest, most powerless.

One has lived all one’s life in this country and has seen the progressive decline in animal care; and a rise in cruelty towards animals in direct tandem with the rise in jihadism and religious extremism. Walk down any street and you will see that the very first reaction of most people to a passing dog is to cast about looking for a stone, or brick, or stick to throw at the cur.

Go to any zoo and you will see people torment the animals, specially monkeys and apes, by screaming at them, making faces at them; in one case that I witnessed myself, actually prodding a leopard with sticks, which anecdote I must tell here in detail. It was at selfsame Marghzar Zoo where I was walking around several years ago on a bright and sunny winter morning.

What do I see but a bunch of Talibs (young madrassa kids, seven to 18 years old) poking the leopard with a long stick, through the bars of his cage, as he lay warming himself in the sun. It was fascinating to see the dignity with which the beautiful cat looked at his tormentors, as if to say, “My world is already taken away; what more can you awful people do to me?”

I saw red of course and looking around for a zoo worker shouted out to one to come open the gate of the cage so that these brave young men could go in and fight the leopard. The boys immediately desisted and ran away to another part of the zoo.

However, here we are talking about lay yahoos who would tease animals; what about zoo officials and veterinarians, the people actually in charge of zoos and the welfare of animals supposedly in their care? Stories are rife about the scant care that is taken in looking after the creatures. A giraffe died in Lahore zoo not too long ago because he had ingested a plastic bag, which had probably been thrown at him by a visiting yahoo.

Neither is any attention paid to inbreeding in the case of lions and tigers resulting in a shrinking gene pool that is producing sick and weak offspring. Inbreeding is widespread and is taken more as an exotic quality (as in White Tigers) rather than as a serious health problem. Indeed, one has seen tigers with such deformed features as are frightening to behold.

Here is an excerpt from a 2009 report Accumulation of Deleterious Mutations Due to Inbreeding in Tiger Populations by researchers Lauren Begamy and C S Criscuolo. “Biodiversity in a species is the amount of genetic variability within the species. Genetic diversity refers to the total number of genetic characteristics in the genetic makeup of a species. The loss of genetic diversity within a population can be due to inbreeding within the species. Inbreeding can lead to an increase in homozygosity in the population and cause an excessive amount of deleterious mutations.

“Tigers are one of the most inbred animals in captivity. Tigers carry a recessive gene that can cause some offspring to be white. For the white colouring to show, the tigers must be inbred. The constant inbreeding can lead to mutations such as immune deficiency, scoliosis, cleft palates, mental impairments, strabismus, and early death. Inbreeding of the tigers leads to a loss of genetic variation within the species which can diminish the chances of evolving if necessary.

“Current research shows the genealogy of all white tigers can be traced back to the very first white tiger. It can be proven that every white tiger is related to one another. Other research proves that inbreeding is the major cause of mutations in the tiger population and hopefully further research will be done on other possible mutations that could occur within the species.”

So there you have it reader. Whilst, for example, we don’t know how many of our tigers have cleft palates that make mere living hellish, mental impairments can be seen in any zoo in Pakistan with the animals pacing up and down their tiny cages, sometimes biting their own tails off; bears moving their heads maniacally from side to side; and wolves and jackals running like possessed creatures from one end of their enclosures to the other, over and over again.

Close down all Pakistani zoos I say, and gift the animals to countries that care for, and love animals. We are yahoos; we don’t deserve the noblest of God’s creations.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, everyone and Charlie’s Aunt has given gratuitous advice to the new DG ISI. Here is my tuppence worth: Never again should your goons try and disrupt, say, a seminar to protest the genocide of, say, the Hazara people of Balochistan as they tried to do at the Islamabad Press Club on Saturday, April 28, 2012.

It was so apparent who they were; and who their director was; who actually piled the cameramen into his own car after their  ‘surveillance’ was done! Not good.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 4th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (42)

  • Shahbaz Asif Tahir
    May 4, 2012 - 12:02AM

    I am surprised that you have not mentioned any thing regarding the establishment.
    May be you forgot to mention that according to your theory, and phillosphy, even
    mis management of local zoo’s must be blamed on the establishment.


  • elementary
    May 4, 2012 - 12:04AM

    We have fallen to lowest levels of apathy ,nothing shakes us from the core anymore.


  • Parvez
    May 4, 2012 - 12:09AM

    Makes you want to cry. They way people treat animals tells you a lot about those people.
    It is necessary to teach children because the adults are beyond redemption, that animals are God’s creatures as well and if treated with respect they give back without fourfold without demanding anything.
    Oooof !! this elephant story had upset me and now this article just made it worse. Thank You Sir for articles like this are sorely needed.


  • Meekal Ahmed
    May 4, 2012 - 12:20AM

    I agree; close them down and gift the animals to those who treat them better.


  • BlackJack
    May 4, 2012 - 12:23AM

    Close down all the zoos? I would argue that you need more zoos – the more dangerous animals are all outside now.


  • Ata
    May 4, 2012 - 12:25AM

    Finally someone talking about this stuff. The state of affairs are distressing and depressing to say the least. But then again in our land of the pure, people are rarely taken care of. No wonder animals are mistreated to this extent.

    I second your motion. Have some mercy and close all the zoos.


  • Wajashat Masood
    May 4, 2012 - 12:47AM

    Well wrote Kamran Shafi as always. Your concern for poor animals is humane and touching, to say the least.

    I am more concerned about your last two paragraphs. While I completely agree with you, I just wonder if anyone is going to pay heed to what civilized people like yourself say (and write) in this land of the pure concerning INVISIBLES because the sycophant legions are at large and willing to waste any amount of ink to hoodwink the poor (and ill-informed) citizens of this country.


  • Its (still) Econonmy Stupid
    May 4, 2012 - 1:18AM

    The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated” ~Gandhi (1869-1948)

    “I looked at all the caged animals in the shelter…the cast-offs of human society. I saw in their eyes love and hope, fear and dread, sadness and betrayal. And I was angry. “God,” I said, “this is terrible! Why don’t you do something?” God was silent for a moment and then He spoke softly. I have done something,” He replied. “I created you.” ~The Animals’ Savior Copyright Jim Willis 1999

    “I think how we treat our animals reflects how we treat each other … And it’s very important that we have a president who is mindful of the cruelty that is perpetrated on animals …”~Barack Obama


  • dasmir
    May 4, 2012 - 1:51AM

    A pietyt of a society is recognised by how much it cares for its animals- M K Gandhi


  • ARiaz
    May 4, 2012 - 1:53AM

    Great column!

    Two points to make here:

    Muslims are the most inbred humans in captivity.
    Mushtaq Yousufi, the world’s greatest humorist once wrote, “Muslims only like animals that they can eat.”



  • Its (still) Econonmy Stupid
    May 4, 2012 - 2:43AM

    ““Biodiversity in a species is the amount of genetic variability within the species. Genetic diversity refers to the total number of genetic characteristics in the genetic makeup of a species. The loss of genetic diversity within a population can be due to inbreeding within the species. Inbreeding can lead to an increase in homozygosity in the population and cause an excessive amount of deleterious mutations.”
    Sounds like a good argument against the first cousin marriages


  • FS
    May 4, 2012 - 2:45AM

    Zoos in Pakistan – hard to guess if the animal is in the cage or outside


  • Muqarrib
    May 4, 2012 - 2:56AM

    One must admire the learned writer’s ingenuity and secular dexterity in linking the death of an elephant, a result of poor zoo management, to “religious extremism” (read adhering to the Quran and Sunnah) in the “Citadel of Islam”. One can condemn the cruelty to animal as much as one wants, but I fail to understand the connection the writer is trying to make between the irresponsible treatment of animals in Pakistani zoos and the religion Islam.

    I have seen kids in Europe and America playfully harassing zoo animals but it never occurred to me that it is their religious upbringing (as the writer calls Pakistani kids doing the same as “Talibs”, “madrassa kids”, meaning kids of Islamic cultivation) that’s making them do the mischievous act.

    Bravo to Mr. Shafi for blaming every social ill in Pakistan, including the mistreatment of zoo animals on religion. Amazing!


  • Cheema
    May 4, 2012 - 5:12AM

    @Shahbaz Asif Tahir

    Funny, but well said


  • Muqarrib
    May 4, 2012 - 5:41AM

    @Shahbaz Asif Tahir:

    Well, he at least managed to blame it on “Talibs” – “madrassa kids” and “religious extremism” in the “Citadel of Islam”.


  • Maqbool
    May 4, 2012 - 6:38AM

    @Shahbaz, the word Zoo in the title itself implies it’s about establishment.


  • ahmad
    May 4, 2012 - 7:23AM

    Really? animal cruelty..i really think we have bigger things to worry abt.


  • indian
    May 4, 2012 - 8:38AM

    I suppose not, for this is the Land of the Pure where the axe always falls on the weakest, most powerless.

    dear sir, the story of [pakistan…


  • khan
    May 4, 2012 - 9:07AM

    Kamran, if you really want to write on how animals are treated in this country, you need to spend a little time on the road leading to Afghanistan where poor cattles could be seen being smuggled literally in scaffoldings. I am sure no one calling himself a human being can stand that spectre.


  • s shah
    May 4, 2012 - 9:21AM

    Thank you for another excellent article. I agree with you: zoos in Pakistan should be closed and their animals gifted to zoos abroad because the zoo authorities seem to be incapable of looking after them. Animals should not be provided to Pakistani zoos by other countries as Pakistani zoos are not up to international standards.

    The way animals are treated in Pakistan is truly shameful. The way we treat the voiceless the vulnerable and the defenceless, whether they be animals, children or women, is a measure of our humanity and our civilisation and we have fallen shamefully short.

    @Cheema, @Muqarrib, @Shahbaz Asif Tahir, you could not write even a word of compassion for the suffering and pain of a captive animal, instead, you had to grind your own ideological axe. Shame on you.


  • Sajid
    May 4, 2012 - 10:14AM

    “Really? animal cruelty..i really think we have bigger things to worry abt.”

    Having bigger things to worry about does not necessarily mean ignore “little” things, although a living creatures life may be worthless to someone like you, it is our moral responsibility to take care of animals of inferior intellectual faculty (not talking about you). You take one step at a time, even if someone tries to raise an issue over trespassing property and mounting flags on traffic signals, he is still doing a great job.Recommend

  • sars
    May 4, 2012 - 10:43AM

    Animal cruelty being acceptable in a society is a direct relection of how that society treats people.
    In many developed countries, basic needs of a person are thought about. If you are old, and cant cook the government will either move you into a facility where you will be cared for, have a social worker visit or provide you meals. The same way if you travel you leave your pets with a facility that cares for them.
    So noone has the need to disrespect their parents , throw them out on the street or leave them at Edhi center.
    On the other hand parents who dont take the time to teach their kids how to treat other human beings (and animals) , may often reap the (rotten)fruits of their upbringing later on


  • sharifL
    May 4, 2012 - 10:44AM

    It proves beyond doubt that Kamran is read and admired by many. Otherwise people would have not commented on the treatment of animals in large numbers. Good work.


  • ReligionOfPeace
    May 4, 2012 - 12:50PM

    The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated … I hold that, the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man.”-Mahatma Gandhi


  • Uzair
    May 4, 2012 - 12:55PM

    Kamran sb, thank you for highlighting the plight of the poor creatures in our zoos.

    As for those who are making light of the article and its author by complaining about no mention of the establishment or why Islam is being “blamed” (the author is not blaming Islam, only highlighting how even the supposed pious are cruel and callous)… I say shame on you for not agreeing that vile things happen in our country and must be stopped. As for the person who said that kids tease animals in western countries, I counter by saying that such teasing is very rare if it happens at all, you know very well that animals are treated horribly in all instances in our country, whether it is stray dogs getting pelted by stones, or animals in zoos treated as low-rent entertainers by our general populace.


  • Arifq
    May 4, 2012 - 1:02PM

    Well said Kamran Sahib!


  • Sadia Mahmood
    May 4, 2012 - 1:33PM

    True, but please don’t call young children “Talib’. I would just go with ‘students’ or children. Secular school students can also poke a tiger in the cage or in fact go for hunting animals.


  • Ozymandias
    May 4, 2012 - 2:45PM

    Honestly this is all good, but do we really HAVE to link everything with extremism?


  • Uzair
    May 4, 2012 - 3:12PM

    @ahmad: WE have CHOSEN to put these animals inside enclosed structures, so it is our RESPONSIBILITY that they have decent lives. To do otherwise is to be cruel on purpose to them, so please don’t just brush it aside as “animal cruelty” like it can only be the concern of the wealthy. All those who visit zoos have a duty to show kindness to the animals, not act like barbarians to the helpless creatures.


  • Aamir
    May 4, 2012 - 3:23PM

    Article was great and comments were interesting. Its good to see more sane and sensible people. I fail to understand how anyone can criticize this article. Its against cruelty, plane and simple. For people who say we have more important things to worry about are simply saying its ok to treat animals badly. That is the saddest part. I loved the name Saheli and hope we can improve in understanding the plight of these animals. When we show care, universe would show care for us. Since we dont, universe treats us accordingly.


  • vihang
    May 4, 2012 - 5:36PM

    who talks for those animals which are just killed for food? whether Halal way or not.


  • One Pakistani
    May 4, 2012 - 5:48PM

    They need to be managed properly .. why do we always try to find an easy way out !!!
    Well then again, said that.. in a country where humans are abused and treated worse than animals … what do you expect !! Worry about the humans first ;)


  • Omair
    May 4, 2012 - 6:06PM

    I believe Mr Shafi realizes that this article is about the state of zoos in pakistan. Where the worth of a man (the noblest of allah’s creatures) is no more than the price of a .38 bullet, where families commit suicide,enmasse because the provider of the family fails to provide the most basic of necessities for his family, so he takes it upon himself to put his entire family out of its misery, which he feels will only compound itself if he dies alone. However 10 lakh ppl in PK “survive” on 70 percent of GDP and the hundreds of million live on the rest 30 percent, and be assured that figure while going gthrough the echelons of a democratically elected government will magically inflate to 60 percent but then be recanted weeks before the national budget that the “educated” establishment did a calculation error plus they all had to draw “salaries” for the “years” of “hard work” conducted in the “national interest” so the figure was much lower.

    Do not get me wrong I completely agree with the notion that the zoos be dismantled and the animals be given sanctuary in some well deserved country, i adore pets and we have cared for them as best and humanely as possible, because we are charged for caring for beings that cannot voice their complaints, and we can be held accountable in a greater court of justice.

    but to expect that any action that would/could/should be taken to improve the current state of affairs across the board will “hopefully” be prioritized.


  • May 4, 2012 - 6:24PM

    A bunch of kids poking an animal with a stick in a zoo, can be seen anywhere in the world. Kids will always be kids, it’s not like there was a machete attached to the stick. Because they happen to be Pakistani kids

    Admittedly I’ve only been to the Lahore Zoo, but I found it much better than many Zoos I have seen in Europe, where there are hardly any animals in the cages because they keep dying from the adverse climate.

    Yes Mr Shafi, lets get rid of all the Zoos, because that is one of the few pursuits left for poor Pakistanis to enjoy. How about closing all the parks and playgrounds while you’re at it.

    I would have admired your post if you had actually analysed the death of the Elephant and it’s cause, so that we can avoid such things in the future. Alas.Recommend

  • Arif Mirza
    May 4, 2012 - 7:02PM

    It is well known, any civilization’s values and ampathy to the weak can be determined by their treatment of the weekest link, the treatment of animals!

    Pakistanis love to blame everthing on foreigners, particularly America. Let’s just Blame this degradation of humnanity on America.

    Shame on us all, we have reached the bowels of inhumanity, NO respect for any sort of living things!!


  • IZ
    May 4, 2012 - 7:26PM

    Actually the Karachi zoo has been massively improved in recent times in case anyone has bothered to check. This is a very silly article really. You’ll find a great deal of cruelty in schools, factories, mines, colleges and most other institutions in the country. The reason no one advocates their being closed is because they are thought to be “useful” and therefore worthy of reform or too important to criticize. Alas, not so such useless institutions as zoos, which are after all primarily for the enjoyment of children (and that too mostly the ones who can’t afford cable TV and console games in their air conditioned homes).


  • Animal Lover
    May 4, 2012 - 8:27PM

    Nice article Kamran. DHA authorities shot my dog. I hate them for it.


  • Jilani
    May 4, 2012 - 8:30PM

    Please contribute to Pakistan Animal Welfare Society, (PAWS), they have a facebook page.


  • qzj00
    May 5, 2012 - 2:06AM


    I don’t claim to speak for Mr Shafi; however, here is I think what he is saying:

    “On the one hand we claim this land to be the citadel of Islam and on the other we treat animals in the most inhumane way”.

    Is that simple enough to understand?


  • qzj00
    May 5, 2012 - 2:15AM


    Since the general assumption/expectation is that “madarsa kids” are better then the “immoral western” kids, shouldn’t the “madarsa kids” be expected to adhere to a higher code of conduct and NOT behave like the kids in the “immoral west”?


  • K B Kale
    May 7, 2012 - 8:00AM

    @Shahbaz Asif Tahir:
    Thus is no way to insult one of the best columnist of Pakistan!


  • o brother where art thou?
    May 11, 2012 - 8:20PM

    @ Jilani
    Yeah PAWS has a facebook page but that all that they have. Ever tried placing a litter of kittens or pups with them within the past couple of years? they do not respond and most of what they have on the page are either news items from elsewhere OR their own deeds from ages ago. I don’t know if they are active anymore and what they would do with my donated money.
    By the way, Edhi Foundation has an animal shelter too, in Karachi. I do not know about other cities.


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