‘Lahore Zoo has more than its share of problems’

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‘Lahore Zoo has more than its share of problems’

* Los Angeles Times report says latest problem faced by zoo is smuggling scandal involving two white tigers imported without permits
* Zoo director says he took job two months ago, hopes to improve conditions

Daily Times Monitor

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LAHORE: The Lahore Zoo has been “battered by a suicide attack, residents are traumatised, and officials have been sharply criticised for failing to provide clean water, decent food or basic healthcare”, a Los Angeles Times (LAT) report said on Saturday.

The paper quoted nature lovers and former members of the zoo’s board as saying that a “history of mismanagement and inhumane treatment” at the 137-year-old zoo put the animals in jeopardy.

“If all this is not fraud and misuse of office, I don’t know what is,” Masood Hasan, an advertising executive and a former member of the Lahore Zoo Management Committee was quoted as saying. “It might not be a bad idea to . . . put all the officials inside cages,” he said.

Smuggling scandal: According to the report, the latest problem faced by the zoo was a smuggling scandal involving two white tigers, “allegedly imported from Indonesia a few months ago without the permits required to move endangered species internationally”. The report said visitors to the zoo were not much surprised by the allegations. “If there’s corruption, that’s very bad,” Ayaz Ahmed, 56, a former businessman said. He was with his grandchildren.

The report describes the two female white tigers as reclining “listlessly in the 100-degree heat until a keeper pokes at them with a steel rod to get them to look up for the crowd, prompting an angry growl”. “Tigers became extinct in Pakistan in 1886,” a sign near the cage reads, the LAT said. According to the report, the tigers are “crammed into a 16-foot-by-20-foot steel-and-concrete cage”.

It said the two tigers could not even leave their cage to stretch their legs until an investigation into the alleged smuggling did not complete. It quoted Saman Bhatti, the only veterinarian at the zoo, was quoted by the report as saying, “That would require too many approvals.” The report quoted critics as saying that the zoo had a pattern of “acquiring exotic animals – which are then neglected – to boost revenue that isn’t well accounted for”. Punjab University Professor Shaista Sonnu was quoted by the report as saying, “It’s like a concentration camp.” According to the report, officials have been promising for years that infrastructure would be improved once a $250,000 master plan is implemented. The proposed improvement include amusement parks, puppet shows, gift shops, restaurants and cafeterias, night sessions with music and disco-style lighting, a mosque and a multi-storey building, the paper said. These would reduce “space for the animals in a zoo where 1,100 animals are packed into 16 acres”. The report said the zoo had not invested ina pharmacy, sick bay, examination room, X-ray machine, vaccination schedules or ultrasound equipment.

Only two months: Zoo Director Zafar Shah was quoted as saying that he had took the job only two months ago and hoped to improve conditions. Shah declined to comment on corruption or smuggling allegations. Tauqeer Shah, a hunter, wildlife farm owner and longtime zoo board member, was quoted as saying that the inquiry in the tiger-smuggling case would show that the “zoo is blameless”.

He said the animals were “in good health”, more equipment was expected soon, larger cages were on the card, and the “theft of meat and vegetables earmarked for animals has been addressed”. “Things have improved a lot,” Shah was quoted as saying. “No one can take one banana out of the zoo now.” The report describes the adminsitration buildings with “doors are ajar, windows are blown out and walls battered”.

It refers to the May attack against the nearby office of Resuce 15, when the blast “killed a deer, blew open pens, sent terrified animals fleeing and embedded metal shards in trees”. The report said some people wondered why Pakistan should worry about animals when people were dying daily in terrorist attacks. “But they’re missing the point,” the paper quoted animal lovers as saying. “It’s about core values and the soul of a nation,” the paper quoted Hasan as saying.

“If a society has allowed its people to descend into hell, why must the animals follow suit?”



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