Caging cruelty or cruelly caging?: City’s zoo comes with more questions than answers

With no PC-1 yet, the project draws criticism from environmentalists and activists.

Hidayat Khan December 13, 2014

PESHAWAR: Amid criticism from rights activists and environmentalists, the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government announced a zoo for the provincial capital in November. A month on, the Project Cycle (PC) 1 is nowhere to be seen.

Animals on paper

Senior officials of the wildlife department told The Express Tribune they cannot comment on the actual facts of the zoo plan till the PC-1 is completed. An official of the department said, “It’s a seven-year long project and currently we are working on drawing up the PC-1 to formally initiate construction.”

Initially, Rs100 million was allocated. He added, “It is estimated to cost Rs2.50 billion but at the moment, the provincial government has allotted only Rs50 million to establish a ‘mega zoo’.” The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government has decided to model the zoo along the lines of the one in Lahore, the oldest in the country.

According to the official, “Our first priority will be to build a boundary wall around the allotted land to take it into the government’s possession.” Next steps would include taking decisions about the purchase of wildlife, and the hiring of experts to ensure the zoo preserves and protects the animals kept there.

Here, there, everywhere

What has become clear is that the zoo is a plan in dire need of planning. Little is known about the animals which can or cannot be kept in Peshawar or about the structure of a facility meant to encourage the perpetuation of and the mating of species. Or whether there are sufficient experts who can manage it successfully.

Several of the past successive governments have had the zoo on their books, and have considered different sites—the current one is near Pakistan Forest Institute Peshawar—yet no steps were taken towards its materialisation. One reason cited is the “lack of a suitable place.”

The land which the PTI government has chosen is spread over 29 acres which is believed to be almost double the size of Lahore Zoo.

Earlier, an area near the Northern Bypass was rejected as it was not only at a distance from the city which meant lower revenue generation but would also face threats from floods.

Perfect site, perfectly cruel

According to Mohsin Farooq, an official of the wildlife department, “The environment of Peshawar is extremely fit for a zoo. Nonetheless, we would prefer and purchase animals which will thrive in the environment of the city.”

He added the department has been working on the construction of a zoo in the city for many years and are very enthusiastic about the entire idea. “Non-technical people are criticising our efforts,” claimed Farooq, when presented with critique put forward by environmentalists and activists.

Yet, according to Dr Adil Zarif, a founding member of the Sarhad Conservation Network (SCN), while the zoo might be a good idea on paper, efforts first need to be made to protect the natural environment of the city. “First we need to protect people who live here; with congested roads and the basic infrastructure in tatters, the city is in no position to manage a zoo,” he added. “Giving people Utopian dreams would never solve their issues.”

In a letter dated November 10, Maureen Lines, the ‘Barefoot Doctor’ from Kalash, wrote to Imran Khan, dissuading him from the cruelty of caging animals, especially in a country known for animal cruelty.

“In K-P, dog fighting, which is banned in most enlightened countries, is still a popular sport for male audiences. When I travel from Peshawar to my home in the Kalash valley, I pass through Takht Bhai. Often cock fights are in progress…With this kind of mentality among the populace, how can a zoo exist with a humane attitude to its animals?”

She rightly pointed out the regular deaths in the Karachi and Lahore zoos because of negligence.

“Peshawar is extremely hot in summer. What arrangements will be made for caged animals to be kept cool? Given the unending load-shedding, will energy crisis be a thing of the past by the time the zoo is operating?”

Her letter also pointed out the improbability of ethical and humane sourcing of animals. “Will the wildlife department be entrusted to capture animals, terrorizing them in the process and, perhaps, separating the young from their mothers? Even at the risk of possible killing of animals in the process?”

Instead, Lines suggested to PTI Chairperson Imran Khan and to the CM, parks with large screens which show movies about wildlife would be “both recreational and educational without infringing upon the rights of animals.”

Published in The Express Tribune, December 14th, 2014.

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