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Karachi elephants denied health check-up

KMC says it is capable of taking care of them

SAMAA | - Posted: Mar 16, 2021 | Last Updated: 7 months ago
Posted: Mar 16, 2021 | Last Updated: 7 months ago

Photo: PAWS Pakistan

Karachi has four African elephants and animal activists across the world have raised concerns about their health. The city government, however, does not want international experts to examine them.

Two pairs of African elephants were brought to Karachi in 2009 from Tanzania. Malaika and Sonu have been held captive at Safari Park, while Noor Jehan and Madhu Bala were moved to an enclosure at the Karachi zoo.

Earlier this year, videos of the elephants surfaced and it showed that they had broken nails, cracked tusks, swollen legs, and damaged feet.

Free The Wild, a UK-based animal rights organisation, offered to help them and bring in experts for their check-up. It has been running an online donation campaign for them. The idea was to not ask the city or Sindh governments to bear the expenses for the check-up of the four elephants.

The Karachi Metropolitan Corporation, which runs the safari park and zoo, even gave its verbal permission. Dr Frank Goëritz and Dr Thomas Hildebrandt, two renowned elephant specialists, were scheduled to arrive on February 23 but the city government changed its decision last minute.

Related: Animal rights group wants to end plight of Karachi elephants

“We never asked anyone for their assistance,” KMC Culture, Sports and Recreational Activities Senior Director Manzoor Qazi told SAMAA Digital. “The elephants have been provided with a conducive environment and they are in good health.”

He said that the KMC is capable of taking care of the elephants. Qazi denied any knowledge of verbal permission given to the charity, adding that zoo in-charge Khalid Hashmi may know about it. Hashmi couldn’t be contacted as he has been suspended on corruption charges.  

 “Words just cannot express how disappointed we are by the sudden lack of support,” said Gina Nelthorpe-Cowne, co-founder of Free The Wild, in a statement. “The trip was planned and even medications purchased. This is not only a major setback for the health of the elephants but also has wasted very valuable funds as the medications will expire and cannot be returned.”

Related: Man files petition against ‘criminal treatment’ of Karachi zoo animals

Pakistani activists have asked the KMC to rethink its decision and allow the experts to visit. “There is no shame in admitting lack of capacity,” said Mahera Omar, the co-founder of the Pakistan Animal Welfare Society, and Advocate Owais Awan in a press statement. “The true honour and prestige of Pakistan is by showing its commitment to ethical conservation and protection of wildlife.”

Trapped and chained

Malaika and Sonu have been housed in a small cement enclosure that has a divider in the middle so they remain solitary. Their feet remain chained for 15 hours a day.

“Malaika limps while walking,” said Advocate Awan, who was a part of the legal team that fought for Kaavan’s freedom. “Kaavan’s enclosure was much better than Malaika and Sonu’s as he at least had a place to walk.”

Noor Jehan and Madhu Bala live in similar conditions at the Karachi Zoo. They are trapped within a 20 square-meter cage of thick iron bars and are chained by three legs on a concrete floor.

Related: Unbearable cruelty: Karachi zoo’s sole bear is exhausted and alone

Zoologist Dr Marion Garai, a specialist on the social behaviour of elephants in captivity and chairperson of the Elephant Specialist Advisory Group, wrote a report on the conditions of the elephants after looking at their video in January.

“This is one of the most unacceptable facilities I have seen in my life. It is totally inadequate for any animal, let alone a sentient, cognitive, intelligent and highly social animal,” she said. “The enclosures are totally barren, without food or water. There is no enrichment; the bedding is utterly poor, with just a bit of grass.”

Vaseline treatment

There was an uproar on social media after a video of Malaika’s feet went viral. People and experts asked for her feet to be examined by specialists.

The KMC claimed that her feet had cracked because of a ‘winter rash’. They said that they have been treating it by applying ‘vaseline’.

Following this, an online petition asking for immediate medical assistance of the elephants was started and 3,380 people signed it.

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