A tough call: Zoo animals fate hangs in balance; officials fear backlash

Published: August 29, 2015
Zoo permitted to cull animals for the first time. PHOTO: FWF.PUNJAB.GOV.PK

Zoo permitted to cull animals for the first time. PHOTO: FWF.PUNJAB.GOV.PK


Fairy, the 16-year-old lioness at the Lahore Zoo, drags her hind legs while attempting to walk. “She was paralyzed in 2009. She made a partial recovery in 2009 after extensive treatment but her hind legs remain imbalanced,” Lahore Zoo Director Shafqat Ali told The Express Tribune on Friday. 

“She is in a lot of pain,” he said adding that chances of her recovering from the condition were remote. Ali said euthanasia was the only option for animals in such a state. “It is neither good for the animal nor the herd to keep them alive,” he said.

Ali said five animals at the zoo including the lioness, a houbara bustard, some peafowl and select pheasants had been permitted to be culled.  He said the administration had secured permission to cull Fairy over a year ago. “No progress has been made on this account as we fear a public backlash,” he said.

The zoo director said the administration had also asked for permission to cull a black buck. Ali said the antelope had gotten injured after one of its legs had gotten entangled in a fence.

“Culling is a management tool that is used to deal with challenged, aged, critically injured and diseased animals,” Ali said while shedding light on the procedure. He said the Wildlife and Fisheries Department had allowed the zoo to cull animals for the first time after extensive discussions and deliberations.

“We raised the case of Fairy and some other animals in front of them and they thought about it on a case to case basis,” Ali said adding that they had weighed the ramifications of the action thoroughly. “This practice is often used in zoos abroad. There is not a lot of public awareness about this in Pakistan,” he said. “Not only are these animals in pain but they lower the quality of the rest of the herd and do not make good exhibit pieces,” Ali explained while detailing the reasons for carrying out the procedure.

“Physical and chemical euthanasia are two types of methods employed to deal with injured animals,” Lahore Zoo Veterinary Officer Samuel Shahzad told The Express Tribune. He said the exact procedure was decided after taking the size, condition and species of the animal into account. “The most painless method is cervical dislocation for birds…It differs though for mammals, reptiles, rodents, deer or different animals,” Shahzad said.

Most experts favour animal culling. Saleem Qaiser, a vet with over 20 years of experience said, “There are various physical and mental parameters to consider when carrying out the procedure. But in the case of animals where no treatment is possible culling is the best option,” he said.

“In cases where the suffering of the animal supersedes its well-being, the animal should be euthanized,” WWF-P Species Conservation Director Uzma Khan said.  She said that in the zoo, the director was not empowered to carry out the practice but it was widely used internationally. “The practice is used in international zoos to deal with even instances of overcrowding,” she said adding that it was in such cases that zoos had to deal with criticism. Khan said an extensive photographic and written record of the procedure should be maintained when culling was carried out.

While the zoo continues to delay the procedure fearing a public backlash, the fate of Fairy and other animals like her continues to hang in the balance.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 29th, 2015. 

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