Institutions of inhumanity – 18 Apr 2023

In a country where animal welfare is never seriously considered or discussed, there cannot be justifications for a zoo

The painful ordeal of the elephant, Noor Jehan, in Karachi zoo is a clear reminder that our authorities, community and public are completely incapable of taking care of animals. While the tragedy in Karachi is happening in public display, similar instances all across the country in zoos big and small are not uncommon. This is unethical and completely unacceptable. The time has come for all zoos, public and private, to be closed permanently.

The argument in support of having a zoo is typically three-fold. A zoo can be a place of conservation, a place of education and/or a place of entertainment. Let us examine all three of these arguments one by one.

A zoo can, in theory, be a place of conservation for endangered species. That requires both intent and capacity. We have neither. In a country where endangered species like Houbara bustard are explicitly made available to hunt to brotherly nations, any statement about conservation would remain hypocritical and dishonest. Political parties from across the spectrum have made tall claims about conservation of the Houbara while in opposition, while rolling out the red carpet to the hunters when in power. Conservation efforts in a zoo also require intellectual and technical capacity, a deep understanding of habitats and environment, and a budget to support the efforts. None of these things exist in any zoo in Pakistan. A discussion of animal conservation in a Pakistani zoo is nothing but dishonest and a fraud.

The second argument is about education. Presumably a zoo can be a place to educate the community (in particular children) about animals, their habitats, their evolution and the risk to their future. This requires funds, trained staff and an office with a focus on education. This, too, simply does not exist. The artificial habitats created for the animal are filthy, unrealistic and in a state of disrepair. They resemble torture cages and not a realistic depiction of the natural environment of the animals. The local staff at the zoo is typically untrained and not interested, and any office to educate children is simply non-existent. A trip to a zoo should be an educational lesson for everyone on how not to treat animals.

The final argument is that zoos can be a place of entertainment. This argument is actually important to consider since affordable entertainment for those with modest means is rare in the country, and a zoo may be one of the very few places where families can go. There is reflected with a high demand for zoos among the general public on holidays. But no entertainment, for anyone, regardless of their socio-economic status can ever be built on torture of any species. There is nothing appropriate or entertaining about an animal that is snatched from its home, lonely, poorly fed, kept in a cage and incapable of receiving care by authorities that are incompetent. Torture, in any form, on any species, can ever be justified as a form of entertainment. There is simply no moral justification for it.

In addition to public zoos, there are also plenty of private zoos in Pakistan among the affluent and the elite that are just as evil. These zoos are nothing but an embodiment of vanity and demonstrate a failing moral core. These private zoos are also a threat to animal welfare and global conservation efforts as they often strengthen poaching networks. These symbols of vanity should have no place in any society.

In a country where animal welfare is never seriously considered or discussed, where veterinarians are few and not adequately trained, where funding for public places is non-existent and where facilities stay permanently in a state of disrepair, there cannot be any justification for any zoo. We need to treat everyone and everything with dignity. It is time for these public and private centres of torture to be closed forever.

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