By Sarim Siddiqui.
The earliest ideas of keeping animals in captivity for entertainment were introduced in Ancient Egypt. This practice continued and developed as time passed and eventually lead to the creation of a system of zoos. We all are familiar with the term ‘zoo’ and most of us have fun memories associated with this term. However what we fail to realize is the fact that these enjoyable zoos that are created for conservation purposes are often cruel slaughterhouses for exotic species. Animals are kept in small cages and suffer due to the lack of a nutritious diet, poor medical facilities, unprofessional staff and solitude.
Recent events that have been highlighted by the media prove the gross incompetence and corruption that has infiltrated some zoos in Pakistan. The death of two lions due to burning and suffocation while being transported to another facility from Islamabad zoo is a horrific incident of unprecedented cruelty and extreme neglect. This incident is not a rare exception, in fact such tragedies occur all the time in zoos and are ignored by the officials and no steps are taken to prevent these from happening in the future. In the month of January 2019, the Islamabad Zoo lost four Nilgais in a week due to the cold weather as no shelters were constructed to keep the animals warm at night. The Elephant Suzi died in the Lahore Zoo due to depression and solitude. More than 30 animals have expired in Peshawar Zoo since it was inaugurated in February 2018, including a rare snow leopard. In February 2020 seven baby crocodiles died in Bahawalpur Zoo. Recently, a pair of Pumas and a male lion also came to the same fate. It is also important to note that the animals in Pakistan’s Zoos are not kept as per the international standards set by the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) and the World Association of Zoos and Aquarium (WAZA).
The situation of zoo animals is an unpleasant reflection of the general lack of animal rights in Pakistan. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (1890) describes cruelty to animals as “an act towards an animal, which is against the natural instinct and behavior of the animals and has a negative effect on the health of an animal including overdriving, beating, mutilation, starvation, thirst and overcrowding or otherwise ill treatment to the animal” However the plight of both zoo and domesticated animals question the enforcement of this. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (1890) is certainly outdated and does not contain a strict set of requirements for dealing with animals. The standards for animal protection 130 years ago should obviously not be applied to animals today.
A very important part that zoos throughout the world play, that has a positive effect on biodiversity is the conservation and breeding of endangered species. This is crucial in maintaining the population of species that are at risk of going extinct. However zoos in Pakistan are known to do the opposite. Instead of successful breeding these animals fail to survive the harsh conditions imposed on them by a failing system. These dead animals are then replaced by new ones which are imported from other countries only to meet the same fate. This evidence simply proves that zoos in Pakistan have an immensely terrible effect on biodiversity and the wellbeing of wildlife across the globe.
Animals deserve to live freely just as much if not more than humans and it is our responsibility to make sure this is implemented. Think about this the next time you consider taking your family out to the zoo.
Sarim Siddiqui is an intern at the Seeds of Education, Policy, Legal Awareness & Advocacy (SEPLAA) Foundation & Think Tank.