* Experts blame the poor environment, food presentation method and small cages for zoo animals’ declining health
By Hina Farooq
February 6, 2007
LAHORE: The animals at the Lahore Zoo feel insecure and ill-fed, which is why most of them are either in bad health or become aggressive, a zoo official told Daily Times on Monday.
He blamed the zoo’s substandard facilities for this. The officials, he said, were worried that some animals were becoming hostile and some were losing interest in life. He said the problem was not restricted to mammals, as is commonly believed. Reptiles too, were showing the adverse effects of the conditions prevailing in the zoo. He said sometimes, the problem became so severe that animals lost their appetite or started screaming. He said some animals at the zoo suffered from Coprophege, an illness in which the animals eat their faeces and bang their heads against the cage walls.
Most of the times, the cases don’t become commonly known, but recently, the problem has increased and caught public attention. Last week, a chimpanzee vented his agitation at his mate by kicking her around the cage. A zoo official said the chimps agitation was due to his insecurity and claustrophobia.
Last year, a snow Leopard caught in Murree was brought to the zoo. The leopard remained disturbed, lost its appetite and died in a few months. A puma at the zoo walks all over its enclosure continuously with its head bowed down. Officials say it is depressed at losing its partner and freedom of movement.
Suzi, the elephant, became hysterical a few years ago. The elephant threw people off its back and the administration had to stop elephant rides. An official said the elephant’s behaviour changed because it was a social animal, but was forced to live alone.
The zoo had long had a hippopotamus. The administration acquired a mate for it, but the two did not tolerate each other. The zoo then, put both in separate enclosures. An official said animals that had no mate or interaction with others of their species suffered from such problems and died early. Bushra Khan, education officer at the Lahore Zoo said the zoo’s role was to preserve rare species. She said in most countries, the zoos keep animals in an environment that is similar to their natural habitat. She said if this is not done, the animals lose interest in life.
She said the animals want to roam freely and feed on prey that they catch themselves. She said the animals could be saved from the agitation by changing the mode of presentation of their food. Food should not be thrown in front of them, rather it should be hung from a stick or kept in a bag, letting the animal smell it and reach for it.
Uzma Khan, a veterinarian, said the zoo management should treat every animal with respect. She lamented the fact that many animals are kept in “tiny cages”. The visitors are constantly teasing the animals to draw their attention. The zoo has an average of 2,000 visitors a day. This number increases on holidays.