The Lahore Zoo, established in 1872, is currently home to 1,100-odd animals belonging to some 120 species. The zoo, considered one of the largest in South Asia, has managed to import a range of animals over the years including an elephant, a rhinoceros, a giraffe, seahorses, and a Bengali tiger.
The zoo director, Hassan Ali Sukhera states that “necessary funds are being arranged for the balanced diet, care and conducive environment for the animals, besides providing them with suitable enclosures in line with the international standards.”
On the flip side, though, the condition of animals at the historically and publicly acclaimed zoo paints a different picture. Last year, an 8-year old Bengali tiger, Rawal, suffering from parasitic disease, passed away. (A Bengali tiger is supposed to be able to survive for fifteen years in the wild. Previously, two Bengal tigresses died due to the same disease. In November 2017, a male cheetah passed away due to diarrhea after spending just 30 days at the zoo. The cheetah and its female pair had been imported from South Africa on October 29, 2017.
On May 13, 2017, the Lahore Zoo’s only elephant, Suzi, died after an acute pain in her legs. According to experts, Suzi was suffering from loneliness as she was never afforded the company of her own species during her 24-year-long stay at the zoo.
The same year, 14 giraffes were imported, 10 of whom died due to the fatigue of travelling and change of environment. The changes in environment are supposed to be accounted for before the animals are transported. The director of the park, General Khalid Ayaz Khan, explains that a mistake was made in the arrangements: the temperature in the giraffe’s homeland was 14 degrees centigrade compared to the average 40 degrees centigrade in Lahore.
The Lahore Zoo lacks a basic quarantine facility that is supposed to isolate animals to give them time to cope with the changing environment. According to the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) and the World Association of Zoos and Aquaria (WAZA), the Lahore Zoo falls short of international standards. The cages are not designed to replicate the animals’ natural habitat. The feed and the medical facilitates are also many steps behind the general international criteria. Animals dying before their expected, natural life expectancy raises many eyebrows. Diseases and inadequate facilities of the Lahore Zoo explain the early demise of animals.
Experts from ZAWEC (Zoo Animal Welfare Education Centre) of Barcelona say: “Lack of space, social stress, presence of visitors, diseases and other health problems, and medical procedures are some of the main challenges facing the zoos.” According to them, “the negative visitor effect could be mitigated if some measures are taken to further enrich the environment of the animal. For example, existing enclosures can be modified and improved by the addition of barriers (such as camouflage nets) and hidden spots or refuges that allow the animals to avoid visual contact with visitors.”
The San Diego Zoo of California, USA, is one of the largest in the world. It houses 3,500 of more than 6,500 species. The said zoo owes its success to the open air cages and their aim to recreate natural environments for animals as precisely as possible. This is the model that the Lahore Zoo should follow in order to avoid sudden deaths and diseases. Instead of focusing on importing as many animals as possible, the zoo must focus on making sure that the animals brought in are well equipped to live out their natural lives with quality.
The Safari Park, on Multan Road, is an example of a new and improved version of the Lahore Zoo. Formerly called the Woodland Wildlife Park, the public facility was set up in 1982 over an area of 242 acres. The funds for the place were provided by the government. Later, in 1998, it was handed over to the Punjab Wildlife and Parks Department by the Forest Department. In 2004, the largest walkthrough aviary of Pakistan was constructed in the facility and was opened for visitors. The park, home to safari tracks in the lion and Bengal tiger areas, covers an area of 80 acres. On January 21, ‘09, it was extensively renovated and renamed the Lahore Zoo Safari.
The park is now considered to be an extension of the Lahore Zoo. It provides veterinary facilities to animals and birds to minimise their mortality rate. Medical facilities include a dispensary, an ultrasound room, an X-ray dark room, a laboratory along with an emergency duty room, and sick rooms for birds/animals.
Visitors to the park have lots of good things to say about this. One of them says, “I love animals and always wanted to look at lions more closely. The Safari Park is the best place for animal lovers.” Another says that the park is “not like a typical zoo that we have visited before; it is something new, and the first experience will definitely leave you amazed.”
In July 2016, a record 34,340 tourists are reported to have visited the park, and an income of Rs0.93 million was generated by the Wildlife and Parks Department. The numbers are going up with the increase in the facilities offered by the park. Recently, it has started to offer a night safari too.
The Safari Park director, Chaudhry Shafqat Ali elaborates: “Tourists who opt for the experience shall be able to witness nocturnal animals in action. Animals such as lions and tigers which laze about during the day, and birds which begin to chirp after sunset are all part of the attraction.”
The Safari Park is unique for its approach towards animals. It has been designed to suit the zoo animals, and ensures that all the facilities benefit them. Experts from ZAWEC explain how the animals are negatively affected by a constant exposure to strange human faces. In order to overcome this, the park has launched an ‘Animal Adoption Scheme’ that seeks to create a direct bond between the visitors and wild animals, and to encourage their conservation.
The people adopting the animals are also able to visit them at any time and shall be responsible for the animal’s medication and food. This helps cover the maintenance costs, and builds on a direct relationship between the citizens and the animals, creating greater room for responsible attitudes towards animal conservation.
The Safari Park serves as an excellent alternative to the historic Lahore Zoo. The latter must, however, work on ensuring that animals are provided with the basic medical and dietary facilities. Animals survive best in their natural habitats and not in small, suffocating cages. With the world’s largest zoos abandoning the practice of depriving animals of their basic habitats, the Lahore Zoo must also work on open cages and natural diets. There seems to be hope for our animals and animal lovers with parks such as the Safari.