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Goodbye, Kaavan

There would be no resident of the federal capital who has never ever visited the Marghazar Zoo, Islamabad. Every tourist, domestic or foreign, also gets a zoo visit as part of the Islamabad tour. ‘Kaavan’ and his female friend ‘Saheli’ used to be the centre of attraction for visitors. Many children used to ride both the elephants.

However, all such wonderful memories have now passed. Kaavan, who had been in Islamabad for the last 35 years, has left us forever to spend the remainder of his life in Cambodia. The Asian elephant was only a few years old when it arrived in Islamabad from Sri Lanka. According to wildlife experts, the average life of such elephants imprisoned in zoos is about 45 to 50 years. It means that Kaavan has already spent a major portion of his life in Pakistan. Much has been reported by the media about the ill-treatment meted out to him.

On the occasion of its departure to Cambodia, the golden words of Mahatma Gandhi are also echoing in my mind that “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” The teachings of all religions of the world have specially instructed to treat innocent animals with compassion and kindness. Hinduism, while preaching ahimsa (non-violence), emphasizes that animals also feel pain like human beings.

Islam counts animals among the creatures of God who are living according to the laws of nature. The Prophet (pbuh) also urged that people treat animals with love, kindness and great care. However, it is a great pity that we have completely failed to provide a kind environment to an elephant living in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

According to media reports, the cruel treatment at the Marghazar Zoo was not only limited to Kaavan. Reportedly, dozens of birds and animals died at the Islamabad Zoo due to criminal negligence and bad performance of the ineligible staff. Eight years ago, Saheli died in a miserable condition due to the unavailability of medical facilities.

Last year, eight blue bulls died due to poisoning, which was confirmed by an autopsy report and the FIA was also approached so as to identify the culprits. Several rare animals, including a lion and lioness, were killed at the zoo this year. A formal FIR has also been registered in the Kohsar police station in this regard. A video also went viral on social media in which the poor lion couple were seen being mistreated. The death of a brown bear last year is still a mystery. The pictures of a female bear walking in pain due to a severe wound in her feet are also available online.

We must understand that today, in the 21st century, the concepts regarding zoos have entirely changed. The world’s best universities are now producing graduates with degrees in animal welfare and zoo management. Various organizations like the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, are struggling to recommend quality standards with the cooperation of different zoos, aquariums, wildlife experts, academies, and universities. Many countries, such as South Africa, are introducing eco-friendly tourism where people can enjoy wildlife in a friendly way.

The time has come to ensure the protection of the rights of every animal and bird in Pakistan. There is a dire need for legislation to bring all zoos across the country in line with the international standards. The tireless struggle of all activists for freeing Kaavan is indeed remarkable and a big achievement. IHC Chief Justice Honorable Athar Minallah deserves a tribute for issuing orders to release the poor animals. Being a good human being, it is our moral responsibility to feel the pain of innocent animals.

Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, "Goodbye, Kaavan," The News. 2020-12-04.
Keywords: Social sciences , Animal welfare , Islamabad zoo , Criminal negligence , Medical Facilities , Islamic Republic , Sri Lanka , Pakistan , IHC , FIA