Plagued with corruption, negligence and blatant displays of outright inhumanity, the tale of the Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad is one of severe callousness and abuse. Treating animals worse than vermin, from the higher management down to the support staff, everyone shoulders the responsibility of countless innocent animals living in conditions worse than the throes of death. From water pumps that do not work to cages so small the captives cannot stand up straight- the Marghazar Zoo is a joke in the name of a sanctuary.
Built in 1978, the zoo was once a primary travel destination not only for those visiting from different cities and countries, but also a delightful weekend retreat for the residents of Islamabad. Fast forward to now- if a tourist mistakenly sets foot into the premises, they are greeted with pungent odors and sick animals starving to death.
The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (1890) and the Wildlife Ordinance (1979) set in place to monitor and regulate the treatment of these animals have been severely violated since the transgressors generally do not fear retribution or accountability (Iqbal, 2020). As a result of this, over just the past two years, one white cockatoo, six deer, eight nilgais, one elephant, forty-eight birds, and four lioness cubs have died at the zoo due to mismanagement of preventable causes like mild infections and viruses (INP, 2019). The animals are given low-quality medicines since they are comparatively cheaper; the rest of the funds go into the hierarchy of people in charge of taking care of the animals. It has also been reported that out of the many tonnes of beef and meat brought in for the carnivores- especially the lions who stay underfed most of the time- the majority of it was sent to the houses of government officials with a small percentage making it to the animals (INP, 2019).
Perhaps the greatest, and most publicized, case of animal cruelty observed at the Marghazar Zoo is that of the 33-year-old elephant, Kaavan. He was a token of appreciation from Sri Lanka and has been the center of attention at the zoo for several years. Arriving as a one-year-old cub, he was quickly chained and bound to one spot due to the unavailability of a guard to look after him. As a result, infectious wounds started developing under his feet. In 2012, when his partner, Saheli, died of a leg infection, it took a mental toll on Kaavan since elephants are social species. His dwindling physical health due to lack of proper diet, clean water, and an organized sanitation system, along with his ever-deteriorating mental health left him a pitiful sight. A recent verdict by Chief Justice Athar Minallah of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) stated, “Neither there are adequate facilities nor resources to provide living conditions that would meet the behavioral, social and physiological needs of the animals,” which was prompted by the social media campaign orchestrated for the freedom and relocation of Kaavan to a sanctuary where he could be taken proper care of.
While Kaavan and some other animals, including the bears, will be relocated to safer spaces, many remain in the dismal conditions of the Marghazar Zoo. The ducks and the turtles are in danger due to empty ponds and heavily polluted water wherever it is available. Inconsiderate tourists also add to the problem by throwing trash and wrappers into and around the cages, which stay there due to lack of cleaning staff. Also, the conditions at the zoo could be improved if visitors boycott the facility until they fix their way. Since it is a state-run sanctuary and operates largely on the revenue from ticket and token payments, a protest by the public in the form of a boycott would financially impact the institution, thereby hopefully prompting action regarding the matter.
The role to be played by NGOs is of great significance in this matter since they have the ability to immediately mobilize volunteers who are motivated for action. The social media campaigns demanding justice for all the remaining animals need to be continued with gusto until their safety and health are ensured either by implementing the announced improvements to the zoo or by relocating them to sanctuaries in or out of Pakistan. Volunteers could also, on a weekly basis, visit the zoo to pick up litter while instructing and guiding the visitors to do the same. The animals, who cannot speak for themselves, require us to speak on their behalf; if every individual pressurizes their local representatives through social media and complaint portals, it is possible to prompt a legislative decision regarding the Marghazar Zoo or at least a restructuring in a way that benefits the animals who are currently struggling to survive.
Iqbal, N. (2020, May 22). IHC wants Kaavan to be relocated. DAWN.
INP. (2019, March 19). Dozens of animals, birds die in Islamabad Zoo. Pakistan Today.