When entering the capital city, huge billboards stating “Islamabad the Beautiful” are justified by clean roads and trimmed grass on the green belts. But even things of beauty have some imperfections, and for Islamabad, the glaring imperfection is Marghazar Zoo.
When compared to the rest of the large parks in the capital, the zoo seems to be the shabbiest. As one enters the quiet zoo, most animals seem to be hiding in shaded corners and are irresponsive to visitors. Despite the presence of garbage cans placed at regular intervals across the zoo; most of the enclosures are surrounded with filth and wrappers.
Zoo Director Irfan Niazi told The Express Tribune that there are currently 30 gardeners, 17 attendants and 12 sweepers employed. However, there has never been a budget specially allocated for the maintenance of the zoo. It is covered in the pay and allowance for these employees.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, CDA Environment Member Ahsan Ali Mangi said maintaining a zoo is a very expensive enterprise and governments all over the world find different means to generate money to run them.
The most recent addition to the zoo, a bear cub, has been kept in a reeking worn out enclosure ever since its birth. The cage — covered with sheets — allows visitors a view of the cub from one side of the cage. Meanwhile, ‘mama bear’ has been diagnosed with a painful fungus on her skin. According to the official, as the mother is still feeding the cub, they cannot medicate her to ease the pain. Papa bear has been kept in a separate cage as he is a threat to the cub’s life. The condition of the enclave is pitiful. With no clean water, the health of these bears is questionable at best.
In the past few months alone, a fragile urial fawn died due to mishandling by caretakers. Recently, jackals managed to enter the exotic duck enclosure, killing more than 50 birds. A month ago, a Nilgai died due to negligence, while sources have said that some animals and birds are swapped out by farmhouse owners for their private collections.
Clarifying the death of animals, Niazi said that the mortality is due to cannibalism, as there are more male animals than females, and they have a tendency to fight more.
However, there have been more births than deaths in the past two years he said. In 2010, there were 91 deer, which has now risen to 150. Meanwhile, 70 new ducks have also become a part of the zoo, he informed.
Sehrish Usman was visiting the zoo with her cousins. She said the animals look haggard and the place looks less like a zoo and more like an animal mortuary. The place should be revamped or shut down. “The least the authorities can do is providing the animals with clean water,” she said.
The zoo’s entry fee is six rupees, which allows the zoo to generated Rs4.3 million annually from ticketing alone. However, officials said this is not enough to meet the needs of the zoo, and the price is likely to increase to Rs10.
Mangi informed that in 2008, a Rs1.4 billion PC-I for zoo upgradation worth was drafted. The plan included hiring a South African consultant to expand the size of the enclosures. Since then, only two enclosures have been built at the zoo, and the same PC-I is now being reconsidered with a pool of experts that are expected to meet soon to review the needs and requirements of the zoo.
Niazi also informed that a Rs35 million tender for animal feed has been sent to the procurement director.
The zoo director said that the past practice of selling animals has come to a halt and now animals are being traded with other zoos. Niazi confirmed that blue peacocks are going to be traded for an oaten peacock, a deer is being exchanged for a green java peacock, and a privately donated alligator is also expected to arrive in the soon.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 21st, 2013.