The Deteriorating Condition of Lahore Zoo

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The hapless inmates of Lahore Zoo live out their lives in pitiable conditions. The third oldest zoo in the world, constructed in 1872 is presently in a deplorable state. Under the jurisdiction of the Wildlife and Parks Department since 1982, it is home to approximately 1400 animals of 136 species including 996 birds, 49 reptiles and 336 mammals (Figure 1).

However, these precious animals are taken as just another commodity to do business with. The zoo mints money around the clock but none of it is being invested to change the condition of these very unfortunate creatures.

The animals at Lahore Zoo are in bad health. According to a survey I undertook of adults between the ages 18 to 40, 76% felt that the animals were not treated properly by the zoo authorities. The most important reason why animals in Lahore Zoo suffer is because the zoo lacks medical facilities. Firstly, it has no veterinary hospital inside its premises and none in the vicinity of the zoo. It has no examination rooms no X-ray machines or stretchers for the sick animals. It does not keep any vaccination records. It also has no trained animal handlers and zoo keepers have no expertise in handling sedative darts. Therefore, every time an animal especially the Big Cats are sick, there is a crisis. After treatment, they are herded back into their cages by burning wood poles.

Numerous animals have and continue to die at the zoo. Chimpanzees for example are an endangered species (Figure 2). They are also one of the most intelligent animals in the world, with 70% genes in common with humans. The only chimpanzee at the zoo, Tinku (Figure 3) died in September 2004 after catching pneumonia. If given proper treatment he could have survived. Similarly Tigers (Figure 7 and 8) continue to die of ‘Trypanosomiasis'.  

It is a "blood parasite disease of vertebrates, transmitted by invertebrate vectors. Multiplication of the flagellate's takes place in the digestive tract of the vectors....those of terrestrial vertebrates is transmitted by bites of blood sucking insects" (Williams 36). Between 2000 and 2007, approximately 43 tigers have died of this disease. If diagnosed in its earliest stages, this disease is curable.

Along with the serious lack of medical facilities, animals are not taken care of properly by the zoo keepers. It is the height of negligence and inhumanity when a monkey dies of multiple fractures due to the concrete roof of her cage collapsing on her (Capuchin monkey,2004); or when 20 snakes die of suffocation due to the heat ( June 2007). In response, Yousuf Pal, Director Lahore Zoo said that it was difficult to deal with snakes. The snake house had been closed for the past two years; the snake keeper was responsible for the deaths and the snake houses in the West were centrally air conditioned, but they cannot provide such facilities in Pakistan. (Farooq 13)

The zoo keepers are also over worked and underpaid. It lacks manpower, as it has only 17 zoo keepers for approximately 1400 animals. "None are available at night" (Ahmed 7). Zoo also lacks security guards for example in April 2007, two stray dogs (Figure 6) entered the zoo and killed 28 peacocks. In November 1999, a black Himalayan Bear (Figure 5) killed an 18 month old boy in the zoo, when his parents tried to make him shake hands with the bear. No guards were present to reprimand the parents before the tragedy took place. 

Incidents such as the one mentioned above also highlight the lack of awareness and understanding of the temperament of the animals, on part of the visitors. There are no expert guides available at the zoo, so the millions of people especially the children, who visit learn nothing. According to the survey, only 61% people were of the view that guides should accompany them on their visit to the zoo. This shows the prevalent attitude that a visit to the zoo is mere entertainment, a picnic, a day out. The rights and needs of the ‘entertainers' are seldom if ever understood. Animals are therefore, at the mercy of people who throw food items, burning cigarettes and plastic bags in their enclosures. The giraffe at the zoo died of plastic bag suffocation.

Combined with the substandard facilities, the concrete cages in which the animals are kept are small, stinking and nothing remotely resembling their natural habitat. This is why they show signs of depression, become hostile and lose interest in life.

Hina Farooq quotes a zoo official "...sometimes the problem became so severe that animals lost their appetite or started screaming. He said some animals at the zoo suffered from Coprophege, an illness in which animals eat their faeces and bang their heads against the cage walls". She points out that animals feel insecure and claustrophobic because they are not kept close to their natural environment, where they can roam freely and catch their prey themselves. (Farooq 2)

Along with not being able to catch their prey, the method of food presentation at the zoo is downright derogatory. The Big Cats are fed by throwing ‘chunks' of meat inside their cages. The bear pond at the zoo is dirty and rotten with permanent fungus on the water. The bears don't go near it.

Meeting the dietary requirements of the animals is also a problem at the zoo for example Suzi (Figure 4) consumes 200 kg of sugar cane, 30 kg of oats and 70 kg of fruit each day. Even though she does a brisk trade of ten rupee notes, which is against fundamental animal rights, the zoo has been advertising for a ‘donor' since they cannot meet her expenses.

The surroundings of the zoo animals are not environment friendly, there is no peace and quiet and the air is dense with smog. Adding to the misery of animals, a huge number of precious trees were cut and the entrance of the zoo changed to accommodate the ‘expansion' of the Chief Minister's office. Not only was the beauty of the zoo ruined by such an atrocious act, many animals fell ill due to the loss to the environment.

The much touted Rs. 202 million project - ‘Mater Plan Development and Improvement Lahore Zoo' is seriously flawed. A project which should have been completed in March 2007 is still not complete. (Raza 20) But the core issue is the fact that the plan is irregular. It again confines animals to concrete cages. It does not include the development of medical facilities at the zoo. It does not plan to readjust and create more space rather it gives it an urbanized look by creating cafes and play areas. Even this flawed plan has been delayed several times and according to the survey, 83% of the people felt that the abandoned construction material, under construction cages (Figure 9), dug up play areas and pavements were a disturbing sight.

Although the zoo presently faces a severe crisis, it attracts approximately 9000 visitors daily and the number is much higher on public holidays. Moreover, the experience and expertise of its zoo keepers are its major strength. They have worked in the zoo for years. Jaan Muhammad has been working in the zoo for the past 27 years. He said "I love them as I love my own children and know them inside out...I know at the glance what they are going through"

In conclusion, it is important to understand and accept that the Zoo animals are in an alarmingly bad situation. In order to improve their condition, they must be provided complete medical care. The blood parasite disease faced by Tigers should be dealth with in a systematic manner. Along with effective vaccine and chemoprophylactic measures, ‘Trypanotolerance' must be developed. It is the relative capacity of an animal to control the development of parasites and limit their pathological effects. It can also be induced through selective breeding (Parija;

Bhattacharya 19:116-8). A panel of permanent zoo doctors should be established at the earliest and all necessary equipment should be provided to them. Experienced animal handlers should be hired and the zoo should be adequately staffed, with morning, afternoon and night shifts for the workers. Strict fines should be imposed on all those who tease animals, throw things inside their enclosures and attempt to feed them. Food items, plastic bags and cigarette smoking must be banned near animals. Expert guides should accompany visitors especially school children so they can raise awareness about animal rights, their specific needs and how they should be treated. To give animals a sense of their natural habitat, the zoo should be cleared of all construction material and new trees must be planted to not only save precious animal lives but also to ensure that they are happy and healthy.

Animals are an integral part of our society. They are kept in captivity to ensure their health and well being and to protect their species, not to make them insecure and miserable. Therefore, all animals must be respected and loved.

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