Anarkali, Karachi Zoo’s 65 year old female elephant died in July this year. Upon her death she became food for the other zoo animals. Her body is to be stuffed and put on display in the zoo’s natural history museum while the zoo’s director, Mansoor Qazi, considers ways to get another elephant soon.
In recent years there has been a growing public debate around the world about the ethics of keeping elephants in zoos. Had Anarkali not been taken away from her natural habitat in the wild she would have lived in a large social group and roamed up to 20 miles a day foraging for food and water. Her complex physical, behaviourial and social needs were certainly not met at Karachi Zoo, where she spent six decades after being captured from Bangladesh in the 1950s.
Like so many other zoo animals, Anarkali’s life too was full of much suffering and neglect. Perhaps none of us could see the loneliness in her eyes, the perpetual wounds on her body from having to sleep on concrete, or the stress and discomfort she endured chained to the ground by three legs for 20 hours a day. If one of the worst punishments for a human is solitary confinement, it is a bit odd that doing the same to a wild animal can be called care. And while entertaining her presence may certainly have been for the recreation-starved residents of Karachi, it was no joyride for Anarkali.
Far from educating us about the importance of protecting the habitats and populations of wild elephants, the confinement of this gentle giant taught us that it’s acceptable to chain an animal just so we can see it up close at our convenience. According to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flaura and Fauna (CITES), the Asian elephant can only be imported for conservation and breeding purposes. Try as they might, Karachi Zoo would be hard pressed to meet any such requirement let alone meeting the minimum welfare standards for captive elephant management and care as set forth by the American Zoo Association. Less than 50,000 Asian elephants are said to be left in fragmented habitats in the wild. Keeping one chained up in Karachi for the entertainment of our children will neither serve to educate them nor contribute to protecting the species in their natural habitat.
Even London Zoo, which had displayed elephants for 170 years, decided in 2001 that its facilities were inadequate and shifted its three Asian elephants to the countryside setting of Whipsnade Wild Animal Park. Given the plight of elephants in captivity, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) in the UK published a report in 2002 that recommends the phasing out of elephant exhibits in zoos worldwide. The report also calls for an urgent improvement of current elephant management standards. The Karachi Zoo management, hell-bent as they are on getting another elephant, would be well advised to get hold of a copy of this report to reconsider their decision. At the very least they ought to start thinking about expanding and re-designing their current elephant exhibit space.
Let us not have another Anarkali.
Please write polite letters to the editors of leading newspapers in Pakistan about the ethics of keeping elephants in zoos. Urge the Karachi Zoo director to consider spending the money saved on maintaining an elephant exhibit on improving the housing conditions of the zoo’s many other animals.
All letters should include the writer’s full name, postal address, email address, and in the case of Pakistan, a day-time telephone number.
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