Remembering NoorJehan

NoorJehan the African elephant at Karachi Zoo days before her death on April 22, 2023.

Animal lovers from across the city gathered at Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture on April 22, 2024 to remember NoorJehan the African elephant who died a tragic death at the Karachi Zoo last year. Wildlife conservationists, musicians, artists, filmmakers and animal welfare activists were amongst those present at the memorial event to mark her one year death anniversary.

Mahera Omar, co-founder Pakistan Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) speaks to an audience at the memorial for NoorJehan.

“NoorJehan was born free in the wild lands of Tanzania in Africa. She was one of three baby elephants brutally snatched from their mothers and forcibly brought to Karachi for a harsh life in captivity. We are gathered here today in her loving memory, and to highlight the plight of the many other wild animals suffering in captivity in Pakistan.”

Mahera Omar, co-founder, Pakistan Animal Welfare Society (PAWS)

Speakers at the event organised by PAWS and the ‘I am NoorJehan’ movement highlighted the urgent need to shift Madhubala from the noisy Karachi Zoo to reunite her with Malika and Sonu at the Karachi Safari Park. They are from the same herd in Tanzania, and all four were initially housed together when brought to Pakistan in 2009. A year later they were separated from each other. Madhubala has not seen her sisters in 14 years, and is alone and grieving her only partner NoorJehan.

Jude Allen with Madhubala. Karachi Zoo. April 15, 2024.

Jude Allen of the I am NoorJehan movement talked about his moving interactions with the Karachi elephants. “The first time I met NoorJehan, she hobbled up to me and put her head on mine, as if asking for help. I was moved to tears in that moment. She was forgiving and gentle towards people despite having been so abused in captivity all of her short life.” Since NoorJehan’s death, Jude has been training Madhubala, the lone elephant left at the Karachi Zoo, to enter her transport crate and be comfortable inside of it. Under the expert guidance of Four Paws International, he has been responsible for her well-being these last few months. For the first time since NoorJehan’s passing, Madhubala finally has a friend who speaks to her gently and with love, someone she looks forward to meeting eagerly. “She is very naughty, and makes sure she doesn’t let me get a hold of her favourite football while I am around. She is ready to be shifted to the Karachi Safari Park as soon as the new enclosure there is ready”, says Jude.

Falconer Salman Ali spoke of how difficult it was to try and lift NoorJehan and help her stand in the days she had fallen. “An elephant weighs four to five tonnes. The on ground team used to try and give her a chance to get back up on her feet with the help of a crane under the instructions of Four Paws International on a video call. We tried for days, but unfortunately, she was beyond help.” He thanked wildlife conservationist Azhar Khan and engineer Imtiaz Sindhu for their selfless services day and night with NoorJehan.

Veterinarian Dr. Zulfiqar Otho mentioned how medicines for elephants are not available in Pakistan. “If Madhubala, Malika and Sonu were to fall sick, obtaining medicines for them and in the quantities required would be a difficult task.” Dr. Otho was accompanied by Dr. Shalla Hayat and a veterinary team from the Government of Sindh for the ten days when NoorJehan lay fallen. He thanked them for their services. “NoorJehan had the will to live; we could see it in her eyes. But her body was too weakened by her injuries and sadly she could not make it, despite our best efforts. We kept her as comfortable as we could in her last days”, he said.

Educationist and animal lover Fizza Anverali sang a moving song for NoorJehan, accompanied by her grandchildren Mikael and Azlan.

Zoos rob elephants of their most basic needs. Elephants are active for 18 hours and roam up to 30 miles a day in the wild. They live in social herds and form complex lifelong bonds with each other. Females spend their entire lives together in a herd. Mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts and cousins all nurture one another. Foot problems from cement floors is a leading cause of death for elephants in captivity.

By the spring of 2023, at just 15 years old, NoorJehan was mysteriously crippled from a tragic injury, not able to bear weight on her hind legs. She would often lean against the iron bars of her cage in an attempt to ease the pain. Weeks later, she fell into a cement pond. For ten days she held on to life, lying helplessly on her side, while a team of veterinarians and volunteers tended to her. She passed away on April 22, 2023.

The autopsy revealed extensive damage to her internal organs and knees. NoorJehan’s health deterioration stemmed from a lifetime of being chained inside a concrete cell for up to 14 hours a night. Deprived of any opportunity to display her natural behaviours that she otherwise would in the wild, her death is a stark reminder of how animals suffer in captivity.

In 2021, PAWS filed a writ petition (No. 3122 of 2021) before Islamabad High Court seeking to ban import of all exotic species of wildlife including elephants into Pakistan. As a result of the petition, no exotic species has been imported into the country since September of that year.

“This Court has unambiguously acknowledged and held that animal beings have natural rights and that they cannot be subjected to unnecessary pain and suffering. It has been held that captivity of animal beings by depriving them from their natural habitats and keeping them in an environment that does not meet their behavioral, social and physiological needs amount to violation of their natural rights and subjection to unnecessary pain and suffering. The animal beings cannot be deprived from their natural habitats for the purpose of human entertainment.”

Honourable Chief Justice Athar Minallah, in an order dated September 28, 2021.
African elephants Malika and Sonu at Karachi Safari Park. April 14, 2024.

“The last three elephants remaining in Pakistan deserve a better life in a species appropriate sanctuary. We must do all that we can to ensure Madhubala, Malika and Sonu spend the rest of their lives together free from pain and suffering, and try to right the years of wrongs that have been done to them over the last 15 years in our country.”

Mahera Omar, co-founder, Pakistan Animal Welfare Society (PAWS)

Four Paws International is leading the efforts to help the Karachi elephants. They are a global animal welfare organisation based in Vienna, Austria, with wildlife sanctuaries in eleven countries. We urge Pakistanis to take an interest in the elephants’ well-being and come forward to join hands with those working towards their relocation and species appropriate housing.

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