We don’t want our birds killed

A curlew flies over the coast of Karachi. Photo by Taimur Mirza.

A curlew flies over the coast of Karachi. The unfortunate guest shorebird is a victim of hunting in Pakistan. Licenses issued by the Sindh Wildlife Government allows a party of four hunters to kill up to 60 birds over a weekend. Hunting season is on full swing. Partridges, sandgrouse, quail, ducks, coots, moorhen snipes, stints, dunlin, godwit, ruff, curlews and red shank are all fair game.

A man hunts migratory birds on Russian beach, Port Qasim, Karachi. Photo by anonymous.

The talukas of Thatta, Shahbandar, Mahal Kharochan, Mirpur Sakro, Sujawal, Jati, Tando Muhammad Khan, Tando Bago, Hyderabad, Golarchi, Fazil Raho, Badin, Mahal Kohistan, Kotri, Mehar, Digri, Kunri, Diplo, Chachro, Mithi, Sarhari, Sakrand, Faiz Gung, Bhirya, Sobho Dero, Thari Mir Wah, Nara, Khairpur, Rohri, Sehwan, Samaro, Ghotki, Khanpur, Jacobabad, Thul, Ghari Khairo, Shikarpur, Larkana, Miro Khan, Qambar, Sindhri, Tando Adam and Sinjhoro shall remain open for hunting.

DAWN newspaper: https://www.dawn.com/news/5564
Western Reef Egret in the mangroves of Karachi. Photo by Taimur Mirza.

While some of us like to observe the wonders of birdlife in nature, weekend hunters take the birds’ life for the thrill of the kill. In the face of a worldwide biodiversity crisis, should the Sindh Wildlife Department, entrusted with protecting animals, be allowed to endlessly please hunters, from influential landlords, politicians, rich businessmen to city slickers?

A man hunts flamingoes at Russian beach, Port Qasim.

We demand that Pakistan’s wildlife be protected from gun toting recreational hunters and poachers, to let nature recover and for biodiversity to flourish once again.

Photo by Taimur Mirza.

We want to be able to go to these areas without fear of firearms going off, and to exercise our fundamental constitutional right to enjoy the country’s wild spaces. For a change, can the Sindh Wildlife Department stop issuing licenses to kill our precious wildlife, and instead consider humane alternatives to earning money?

A brahminy kite perched atop Karachi’s mangroves. Photo by Taimur Mirza.

Plight of the Pachyderm

By Mahera Omar

Kaavan, the lone wild-caught Asian elephant in captivity at Islamabad Zoo since 30 years.

The Pakistani government wants 10 African elephants from Namibia, a small country in the south of Africa. Their application is being considered for a decision, as confirmed to The Namibian by Romeo Muyunda, spokesperson for the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism. At least two elephants are destined for Lahore Zoo.

Recently, Justice Muhammad Ameer Bhatti of the Lahore High Court ordered the Pakistan Ministry of Climate Change to issue a no-objection certificate to the Lahore Zoo for the import of two elephants from Namibia. The decision was made in light of a petition filed against the zoo by a citizen, Fawad Mughal, for not having elephants to raise funds and amuse children. 

According to sources, the elephants will likely be caught from a national park in Namibia. It is possible that they may come from Zimbabwe, where 33 baby elephants were recently caught for China. Activists in Zimbabwe have reported the arrival of a Chinese transport company near Hwang National Park to prepare the shipment. Two of those elephants may be destined for Pakistan, with Namibia serving as a smokescreen for the transaction. 

African elephants in Namibia and Zimbabwe are listed in Appendix II of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna. Members of the bilateral treaty recently voted in favour of a proposal banning live elephant export from Africa to captive facilities such as zoos.

According to CITES, live elephant export from countries listed in Appendix II can only be to “appropriate and acceptable destinations” within the animals’ historical range. CITES defines “appropriate and acceptable destinations” as one where “the proposed recipient of a living specimen is suitably equipped to house and care for it.” Animal exhibits and caregivers in Pakistani zoos are a far cry from being ‘suitable’ for any wild animal, let alone these large charismatic mammals. A report submitted to the Islamabad High Court by Dr Uzma Khan of the World Wildlife Fund recommends there should be a “high-level decision to stop bringing more elephants to zoos in Pakistan.”

For the Lahore High Court and the Ministry of Climate Change, which is wrestling for control of Islamabad Zoo, to order the abduction of baby elephants is not only cruel but goes against all environmental ethics and morals. While legal loopholes can be found for the import, no zoo can provide the vast amount of space that elephants require daily to roam. No zoo can possibly recreate the complex habitats, diet and social family structure required by an elephant. 

Elephants live in large social groups, are highly intelligent, use tools for common goals and are capable of empathy. Females stay with their mothers for life. They roam up to 18 to 30 miles a day in the wild, foraging for food and water. Such exercise and freedom to make their own decisions is necessary for their mental and physical well-being.

A baby elephant lies in solitary confinement at Karachi Zoo in 2009, a day after being brought to Pakistan.

Baby elephants undergo a great deal of emotional trauma when separated from their families. Their suffering in captivity is well documented in zoos across the world. Over years of confinement, their distress turns into zoochosis, characterised by repetitive head swaying and rocking. Poor nutrition, no exercise, chaining and solitary isolation takes its toll and considerably shortens their life in captivity. 

Pakistani zoos have, over the decades, inflicted an unspeakable amount of cruelty to elephants. The lifespan of an elephant in the wild is 71 years. In 2017, Suzi, Lahore zoo’s wild-caught African elephant, died at age 31 due to foot problems. Chained at night, Suzi was confined to a small enclosure during the day. Her caretakers took cash from zoo visitors in exchange for food. According to sources, this undocumented cash trail went all the way up lining several bureaucratic pockets. 

In 2014, Saheli, a wild-caught Asian elephant from Sri Lanka, died at age 22 in Islamabad zoo. She was kept in chains all her short life, at the mercy of caregivers whose primary interest was collecting cash from visitors. Anarkali, a wild-caught Asian elephant from Burma, was forced to give rides on Karachi zoo’s tarmac roads, with her caretakers also collecting undocumented cash. For 50 years she endured being chained and constant goading by an ankus, a bull-hook with a sharp pointed end used to control elephants. 

Pakistan currently has four elephants in captivity in Karachi, and one in Islamabad. Kaavan is a 33-year-old Asian elephant in Islamabad zoo. Gifted by Sri Lanka to Gen Zia, he has been shackled in chains since he was a year old. Fast forward 30 years: it took an outcry by animal rights activists and then a tweet by Prime Minister Imran Khan to free Kaavan of his chains.

Wild-caught elephants from Tanzania, on display at Karachi Zoo in 2009, a day after their arrival to Pakistan.

In 2009, the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation, a body providing municipal services such as solid waste disposal and fumigation in Karachi, brought in wild-caught elephants from Tanzania. Four baby elephants were separated from their mothers and brought to Karachi by a trader named Irfan Ahmed of Osaka Traders Zoological Supplies. 

Solitary confinement of two wild-caught elephants from Tanzania at Karachi Safari Park, 2016.

Noor Jehan, Madhubala, Sonu and Malika are now 10 years old. Chained in solitary isolation on hard cement all night, their feet and bodies drenched in their own waste, nobody except their caretakers can witness the distress in their eyes. This is the best kept secret in Pakistan, behind the closed doors of zoos.

The Ministry of Climate Change should rethink their interest in running zoos, and instead invest in nature to deal with the climate and ecological crisis. Let us educate our children about the natural world by creating safe havens for biodiversity, shut down zoos and focus on protecting habitats of the precious little wildlife remaining in Pakistan. Zoos can be turned into urban forests and natural history museums, showcasing local ecosystems. Let us accept that wild animals belong in the wild and not inside cages, because that’s what we forget when we keep pushing for zoos.

The writer is a documentary filmmaker and co-founder of Pakistan Animal Welfare Society. She tweets @afewmofilms

Published in Dawn, EOS, November 3rd, 2019

National Rabies Program

A desi dog living its life out on the streets of Karachi.

I am absolutely appalled at the letter printed in yesterday’s Dawn newspaper titled “Dogs will bite” by Dr. Khalil Mukaddam in Karachi. The doctor claims that “straydogs belong to nobody” andadvocates for their immediate mass killing as a “radical solution” to “reduce the incidence of rabies”. The “quick action” demanded by this one individual, and that too a doctor, is based on his opinion of dogs needing very little to eat and multiplying rapidly in a habitat that has “become so vast”.

Such letters advocating violence towards sentient beings and portraying them as aliens that have suddenly descended upon us to take over the city creates mass hysteria and hatred towards a voiceless creature which is the unfortunate “stray dog”. Newspapers help in forming public opinion. What I am even more appalled at is that Dawn chooses to print such letters despite their own editorials on humane and scientific methods of rabies control in Pakistan.

More than a year ago, Indus Hospital initiated the Rabies Free Karachi project in partnership with the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation. Their approach involves targeting the disease in the animal reservoir by implementing the World Health Organisation’s recommended method of mass vaccination of dogs.

International studies have shown that vaccinating 70% of dogs is sufficient to eliminate rabies.

Starting in Ibrahim Hyderi fishing village, the project is now planned for the rest of the city. Globally, the strategic goal of nations is to shift focus to mass vaccination of dogs and increased access to post-exposure prophylaxis for humans in order to eliminate human deaths from dog-mediated rabies by 2030.

Such an effort requires political will, resources and of course, good management. Pakistanis should lobby their leaders to invest in a national rabies program to join the ranks of progressive and compassionate nations. 


Dogs are very much a part of Karachi’s urban ecology, and their current population is supported by the vast amounts of garbage that we Karachiites dump at every street corner. If the city’s caretakers and residents decide to clean up their act, the dog population will automatically go down, reflecting the cleaner environment. 

Mahera Omar, Co-Founder, Pakistan Animal Welfare Society

Karachi

This letter was published in The DAWN newspaper.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1515989

Open Letter to Islamabad Zoo

The bear with an open wound on its foot – June 9, 2019

The Himalayan brown bear at Islamabad Zoo is nursing an open wound on his foot, possibly maggot infested. The thousands of visitors for whom you keep captive our Pakistani wildlife now demand action to save his life.


The six month old bear cub that you probably bought from a wildlife smuggler is now 8 years old, malnourished, suffering from mange and limping around his cemented enclosure with a gaping wound at least two weeks old. His sister, also wild-caught, has already died in your care.


The general public is wondering why you have an injured animal on display. Since you haven’t yet noticed the bear’s agony, we recommend the following treatment plan by a trained and experienced wildlife veterinarian. First, remove the bear immediately from public display.


Confine him to a squeeze cage for the treatment duration. Sedate using an appropriate and safe dose of anaesthesia. If he has maggots, inject Negasunt or any available appropriate medicine into his wound. Make sure the entire wound is filled.


After 5 to 10 minutes, inject more and more of this medicine till the time the last maggots stop appearing. Begin an antibiotic course. Use the human medicine Velosef as its safe and reliable for bears. Begin multivitamins. Mycom is easily available and effective.


Spray choona (lime powder) around the squeeze cage to keep flies away. Keep the bear confined for several days till the time the wound closes and he recovers completely. Once wound heals, begin treatment for mange. Soak him in Amitraz wash.


In addition, administer medicines for endo/ecto parasites twice a year. Ivomec is recommended and can be sourced by the zoo’s veterinary medicine supplier.


We hope that you are looking after his dietary needs, and keeping an eye on his protein, carbohydrate, fat, minerals and vitamins intake. We plead with you to only feed him milk for a while to aid in his recovery.


We hope you include lentils, corn, bonemeal, beef, chicken, fruits and vegetables, sugarcane and several different kinds of grains. Stale leftover roti (bread) is not a suitable diet and the result of that is visible to visitors who wonder why the bear looks like a complete mess.


While you focus on his health, don’t forget to provide him enrichment such as opportunities to swim in a natural pond, to forage for some of his food, to have access to plants and trees, to have the privilege of walking on a natural substrate and not cement.


In an ideal world, the bear would not have been stolen from the wild in the name of conservation and put on display for the (convoluted?) education of Pakistani citizens. He would not be showing signs of zoochosis and ill-health that captivity induces.


In an ideal world, the bear would be enjoying his freedom in one of Pakistan’s national parks. In naya Pakistan of Imran Khan, with his focus on eco-tourism and climate crisis, the govt would educate the public about the importance of saving our biodiversity and natural heritage.


But since animals held captive like this brown bear make you a lot of money, the sacks of cash trickling up to the highest in the chain, and you will not rehabilitate him back into the wild or release to the national bear sanctuary, may we also recommend the following:


With more than 60% of the zoo’s 25 acres dedicated to zoo visitors, we recommend giving the bear access to an enclosure at least half an acre large, and letting him live the rest of his life in peace, dignity and good health in a sanctuary like environment.


Sincerely,
Pakistani citizens concerned about wildlife in captivity.

Marghazar Zoo

Editorial in DAWN.

GOING by the reports of the past few years, it appears that exotic animals are brought to the Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad for no other reason than a quick death — and a painless one isn’t always guaranteed. At the end of last year and the beginning of the new year, six nilgais died over a period of 10 days, possibly from contracting a virus. According to a report published in this paper, there are no warm enclosures in the zoo to keep the animals during the night. In another report published on Jan 14, a white cockatoo died after injuring its beak. Last August, six deer were mauled by a wolf at an extension of the zoo. Over the past few years, Marghazar Zoo has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Onlookers have pointed to the insufficient or bad quality of the food provided to the animals, the poor health of the latter, the small cages in which they are locked up — all in addition to the general apathy of the zoo staff.

The neglect of the zoo’s solitary elephant, 33-year-old Kaavan, has also drawn international attention, and there is a #SaveKaavan hashtag on social media. The sensitive and sociable creature’s partner, Saheli, died in 2012 from a leg infection at just 22 years of age. Since then, he is said to be distressed and showing signs of ‘mental illness’. Representatives of an international animal rights organisation advised the government to put Kaavan in the care of an animal sanctuary, released of the chains that bind him. As a result of the public outcry, the climate change minister informed a Senate committee that she had requested the government to hand over administration of the zoo to the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board. While there are many compelling arguments against zoos, in countries like ours, zoos are an educational experience for children and a relatively low-cost recreation activity for families. But are a few hours of fun for humans worth a lifetime of suffering for animals?

February 23, 2019.

Passerines for blessings soon to be illegal

A hawker sells captured passerines at a traffic signal in Karachi.

The business of selling passerines for blessing on the streets of Karachi will soon be declared a criminal offence thanks to the tireless efforts of our team. Birds such as mynahs, sparrows, robins, munias and chats are captured by trappers from the suburban areas of the city. Crammed into tiny, suffocating makeshift cages the birds suffer immensely while the trappers cash in on people’s emotions to complete the cruel chain by doing the ‘good deed’ of setting them free again. However, most of the birds are dehydrated and exhausted after being shaken in sacks all day under the burning sun and perish soon after in the concrete jungle far away from their source of food and shelter.


The Sindh Wildlife Department used to acknowledge it as a livelihood and was wrongfully issuing permits to hawkers allowing this cruel business to flourish in the city.