The plight of animals living in miserable conditions in zoos across the country has raised alarm. Many vocal critics have also called for ending the deplorable zoo culture to combat animal cruelty and relocating the animals to sanctuaries.
A video went viral of starving animals at the Karachi Zoo causing outrage. The contractor had refused to deliver food over non-payment of dues while KMC officials showed apathy towards the animals. Days later, a rare white lion died after being sick for weeks and not getting treatment. The authorities have only taken tokenistic measures and have not made any significant improvements for animal welfare.
Last year, Pakistan was the centre of global attention when an Asian elephant Kaavan in Islamabad was relocated to an animal sanctuary in Cambodia. The beast was released after a popular campaign after spending years in solitude. Unfortunately, the other animals at zoos are living in a state of neglect and demand immediate attention.
Animals are sentient beings that can feel pain and suffering. This is also recognised in the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act which relates to causing injury to animals. However, the law is a remnant of the British era and has not been updated since 1937, which shows the lack of attention toward animal welfare. The government has yet to incorporate practical experience and scientific knowledge regarding animal sentience in legislation despite our religion’s strong emphasis to treat animals fairly.
The concept of zoos has also drastically changed in years. A zoo is no longer a place to keep animals in cages but a place which provides them their natural habitat. Many wild animals are supposed to run wild and free, not being in cages where they are unfed and sick. In Pakistan, there is no national policy or regulation regarding zoos, set up in polluted urban areas. Zoos are also not regulated under most provincial wildlife protection ordinances.
It is imperative that legislation is updated and strictly implemented to address the welfare needs of animals. The government is urged to produce legislation to stop keeping wild animals in captivity. Those facilities where animals are kept captive should be regularly inspected. If authorities are unable to improve their condition, then there is no other option than to shut down these animal prisons.