The zoo in Islamabad is treating the animals savagely. After the death last year of the elephant called “Saheli”, which was seven feet tall and therefore very young, action should be taken now. South Asian elephants’ average height is ten feet tall. Even Congo elephants (found only in Congo) are eight feet tall at maturity, while Saheli was just one foot above the man.
When I first visited the zoo in the summer of 2011 and walked past the elephant cage, the elephant keeper took out the elephant for us to pet. I assume this is not an official policy and he did it because he assumed we were rich and would reward him handsomely. He wanted to make money for himself. Meanwhile, the keeper had a thin stick or whip in his hand with which he kept hitting the elephant in order to make it do his bidding.
It is likely that Saheli died of infection. We used to see the elephant chained by his feet when visiting the zoo in the hot summer. In blistering heat, the elephant’s skin was pressed in by a piece of metal. Both the chains and the hitting could cause wounds on which flies would sit and mosquitoes would bite, making the elephant vulnerable to infection. Saheli just died as summer began, which means that after the infection was suppressed in the winter, the return of heat caused the disease to return in such intensity that it took the child elephant’s life.
Also, we saw that the elephant’s living space was very dirty. His excrement and some water were collecting all around the child elephant. That may have also exacerbated the infection in the wounds made by beating and chaining. Plus, I think the elephant may not have been well fed. I carried an empty bag of fries when I went to the elephant and when I held it out, the elephant quickly grabbed it and put it in her mouth.
Now that the elephant has died, it is time for the public to do something about this abomination.
In fact, it is time to do something about the treatment of all the animals in the Murghazar zoo. Many animals that are the most active in the wild are kept in the tightest confinement.
The monkeys behind bars are the same kind that is endemic to Pakistan. They are not exotics. Monkeys can be abundantly seen in Margalla Hills. When driving up the Margallas, we once saw monkeys sitting all along the edge of the road, overlooking the city. It was such a fascinating sight when our car approached, a monkey jumped off the cliff and grabbed onto a tree branch. It is much better to see them like this than seeing them in cages. Why are there monkeys in the zoo when we can see monkeys all around Islamabad, like all over E-seven?
Many of the birds are treated badly. A particularly horrendous sight I came across in the zoo was that of some birds of paradise, or otherwise very beautiful and colorful birds, being locked inside a cage so small that they can barely fly around. One bird was constantly pecking at the cage with its beak, trying to rip it open.
There are some eagles or hawks at the zoo. These animals, which are meant to soar very high, are in small cages instead of the gigantic aviary filled with many birds. The hawks are not put in the aviary because they always perch in a high place, putting them out of the sight of visitors. Plus, they eat the other birds.
Why not put the hawks in a much larger cage, even a whole aviary for birds of prey which cannot eat each other, and throw food into the cage to make the birds come down? As they would grab a large piece of food and go back up to their perch, little pieces of food can be fed to them. Since it is not safe to let visitors feed anything to hawks, the zoo should itself sell food to visitors in order to feed the birds of prey. This would give the zoo extra income. The visitors would have a much better time, and all the animals can be kept in more extensive and fulfilling habitats from where they can be drawn to the full view of people when food appears.
As for the elephant, the one that remains should quickly have his environment changed. The elephants are chained because it is feared they may run away. Maybe they would not if they have more space and better conditions, and perhaps each other. Also, if the elephant is raised by human hands from birth with much love and care, it will be ever more docile. Both these factors combined would make the elephant glad to stay. The fence could also be higher. As this would obstruct the view of visitors, maybe the elephant should be put in an enclosure which is lower than the ground outside the fence. This would make the fence low enough for the visitors to see through and high enough for the elephant to not be able to get over.
The zoo is not a very big one. There is a small and not very exotic collection of animals in it. But that does not mean the conditions and management of the zoo should be poor. It is easy to apply the many solutions I have suggested to make the lives of the animals not so miserable while the visitors still get to see them. It will likely require the support of the community, especially us young ones, as we are stirred up in sympathy for all living things.