Rethinking Zoos

The Wednesday, December 31, DAWN has a wonderful editorial about the poor state of zoos in Pakistan. Kudos to the paper for having the courage to say it like it is: that we do not need zoos in our country, given the abysmal state of affairs in most of them. It is time we woke up and realized the extent of suffering the captive animals endure in our zoos.

Here is the editorial in its entirety:

WILD animals, if they are bred in captivity or made captive through some cruel stroke of fate, ought to be given sanctuary. They need to live in an environment that at least resembles their natural habitat. They can be a source of awe and wonderment for the onlooker but must never be treated as a means of amusement. But visit any zoo in Pakistan and you will see exotic species living – if you can call it that – in cages or concrete enclosures, listless or driven to neurosis, biting off their own tails, pacing about repetitively and plucking plumage in an involuntary frenzy. That is because they are seriously unwell, for the conditions they must endure are enough to drive any living creature insane. Animals in our zoos are poked and prodded by visitors who exemplify all that is callous about this country. Mental well-being aside, zoo animals are also neglected physically by apathetic, incompetent or resource-strapped authorities. Little surprise then that the mortality rate in Pakistan’s zoos is unacceptably high. We should hang our heads in shame because we have failed miserably in catering to the needs of the non-human animals entrusted to our care. Anyone who cages an animal should pause for a second and think how it would feel if the same were done to him or her.

Given our track record, Pakistan does not deserve zoos of any sort, public or private. If the photograph of the leopard languishing in Karachi’s Korangi-Landhi zoo that appeared in this paper a few weeks ago did not break the hearts of all right-thinking people then we have stopped being human. Cognitive skills may differ but animals feel trauma just like we do. What we have in this country are freak shows, not zoos where endangered animals are protected or bred for the propagation of the species. When animals die in our zoos we import replacements, as if they were spare parts, and the cycle of cruelty continues. The choice is clear: we should either run zoos the way they should be or not at all. There can be no middle ground.

The local media has been crying hoarse about captive animal abuse in our zoos for quite some time now. Here are a few reports from DAWN alone:


Oldest bear dies at Lahore zoo


Chimpanzee Tinku dies at Lahore Zoo

Origin unknown

Need to shift Lahore zoo


Another leopard attack


Lahore zoo

Another Lahore zoo tiger dies

13 animals die at Jallo in three months

KARACHI: Zoo death toll mounts

Caring for zoo animals

KARACHI: Disease, cruelty killing zoo animals

HYDERABAD: Another deer dies in zoo

Zoo condition

KARACHI : Another spotted deer dies in zoo


A dying breed

Rani Bagh under threat

Mistreatment of animals at zoo

Karachi Zoo

Animal power, please

Pathetic treatment for animals

Poor state of zoos

HYDERABAD: Death of fourth deer jolts dist govt into action

Condemned to die of neglect

KARACHI: Another blackbuck dies in zoo

KARACHI: Animal exchange programme hits snags: Death of two red deer in Karachi zoo

KARACHI: No induction into zoo museum for three years despite many deaths

Over 80 animals died in capital zoo in 5 years

KARACHI: Animal care still a distant dream

KARACHI: Illegal wild animals trade flourishing

The state of our civilisation


Life’s the pits for Emma, the lonely bear


Karachi Zoo: Crows pick at Bactrian camel’s wounds

Karachi zoo without vet


Karachi Zoo: A threat to endangered animals?

Big sums being spent on animals import, little on their feed

In a September 15 article in DAWN’s Karachian column, Syed Ali Anwar summed it up rather nicely when he wrote about the animal deaths at Karachi Zoo:

The cause of death in most cases has not been or could not be ascertained but one thing is certain: negligence and apathy on the part of the zoo officials has played a major part in the deaths of the animals.

According to reports, three neelgais, three red deer, a Shetland pony (no pony rides), and over 40 partridges have died this year only, whereas last year almost 27 animals, including 12 spotted deer (poor dears), a puma, a black leopard, two Bengal tigresses, six fallow dear fawns, two blue bulls, a blackbuck, a red deer, a jackal, puma and a black leopard died of mysterious blood diseases.

Lack of adequate veterinary and quarantine facilities, unhygienic conditions and unnatural habitats in confinement have also contributed to the deaths of these poor creatures. Karachians, especially the affluent class, must come forward and help revive this 137-year-old recreational facility or soon the Karachi Zoo will be full of empty cages with the land mafia probably hovering like vultures to use this vast tract of land for commercial purposes.

Not only can we not manage the zoos we do have, we are also failing to check the mushrooming growth of dozens of private zoos all over the country. Unless zoo enclosures nationwide are drastically redesigned, and strict standards for captive animal care are chalked up and implemented, the animals will continue to suffer silently, as they have been for so long.

In an ideal world, however, there would be no zoos. According to the Born Free Foundation, an international wildlife charity based in the UK,

wild animals should not be kept in captivity. Born Free works to end captive animal suffering and phase out all zoos and animal circuses.

They also respond to cases of individual animal suffering and intervene with foreign governments to step in and take action. Their website FAQ states:

I am concerned about a wild animal in captivity and want to report it – who do I contact?

Through our Traveller’s Animal Alert campaign please send us an online report. Born Free’s Animal Alert campaign responds to the concerns of individuals, taking action when members of the public send in reports and photos about animal suffering. Animal Alert investigates neglect, fights cruelty and works with tour operators, travel companies, foreign governments and other organisations to take positive action and help improve animals’ lives. Together we investigate notorious facilities, ensure public concerns are addressed, and phase out exploitative activities. Travellers’ Animal AlertSend us your report.

Here’s something that we could all do: Write to the Born Free Foundation on behalf of the leopard in Landi-Korangi Zoo for a start. Go to the zoo, take a few pictures, make a video and share your concerns with them about the welfare of this poor animal. Who knows, they just might head on over to help. In any case, even if they don’t, all that international and national attention towards this one individual animal might shake up the authorities here from their deep slumber.

Please also take this opportunity to send appreciative letters to the editor of DAWN for creating awareness about the plight of animals languishing in our zoos. Send a clear message to zoo directors nationwide about how they need to shape up and seriously rethink the condition of the animals in their care. If they cannot even meet the most basic of animal welfare requirements, then why on earth must they insist on getting more and more animals to fill up the ghastly cages in zoos? Ask them to stop lamenting about the elephant/zebra/giraffe/bear/tiger that they haven’t been able to acquire, and start taking care of the animals they do have for a change.

As the editorial states:

Given our track record, Pakistan does not deserve zoos of any sort, public or private.

The animals cannot speak up for themselves. Your voice can make a difference.

DAWN takes letters at

All letters should include the writer’s full name, postal address, e-mail address, and in the case of Pakistan, a day-time telephone number.

Please forward this alert to your friends, family and colleagues.

3 thoughts on “Rethinking Zoos

  1. This is a great resource recording how Ppl DO care. And more and more are becoming sensitized to animal welfare. Well done PAWS. I have done a media search re Islamabad zoo and #Kaavan (+ex Saheli), would you like a copy of the links for your records?

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