31 August 2020 – Shocking footage of two lions fighting a fire in their small enclosure in Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad now calls global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS and local authorities to action. Inexperienced animal handlers set the fire in an attempt to force the big cats into transport crates, however, both lions died at the end of July as a result of smoke inhalation. The lions’ transfer was preceded by the ground-breaking decision of the High Court in Islamabad in May to close the underfunded Marghazar zoo due to its insufficient keeping conditions. Together with the Pakistani Ministry of Climate Change and the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB), FOUR PAWS is supporting the safe relocation of the remaining zoo animals. Among them is elephant Kaavan, who achieved worldwide fame thanks to an international rescue campaign. His future depends on the results of the medical exams conducted by FOUR PAWS.
The FOUR PAWS team, consisting of wildlife veterinarians and experts, is already on site at Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad. This is not only to conclude the final negotiations with the responsible local authorities, but also to prepare over 30 animals – two Himalayan brown bears, three wolves, twelve monkeys, one deer and over fourteen rabbits – for their departure. Unfortunately, the poor keeping conditions have left their mark on the zoo animals.
“Before the two bears came to the zoo they had to perform as so-called dancing bears. Hence, their teeth have been removed. Together with the zoo vet, we already had to perform an emergency surgery on the female bear as she had a severely infected wound resulting from a recent tumour removal. We have noticed serious behavioural disorders in all of the animals. They are apathetic and at times aggressive. Thanks to the intervention of the Pakistani Ministry of Climate Change and IWMB, we can finally free these zoo animals from their misery and bring them to safe sanctuaries in the region,”
says Dr Amir Khalil, FOUR PAWS veterinarian and head of the rescue mission.
Dr Anis ur Rahman, Chairman of IWMB, adds: “We are grateful that the FOUR PAWS experts are in Islamabad to assist the local authorities with the medical assessment and relocation of the remaining animals at Marghazar Zoo. Those animals deserve a better future and we are happy to make this possible.”
The world's loneliest elephant
The decision on elephant Kaavan’s future, who came to Pakistan as a gift from Sri Lanka in 1985, is still pending. Initially, he shared an enclosure at Marghazar zoo with his partner Saheli, but since her death in 2012, Kaavan has lived a lonely existence. In 2016, an international campaign to save the elephant was launched. When the court in Islamabad ruled the closure of the zoo in May 2020, it was also decided that Kaavan should be taken to an animal sanctuary inside or outside Pakistan, contingent on his medical condition. FOUR PAWS is now supporting the Pakistani government with the assessment of the elephant’s health status. Depending on the results, Kaavan might be relocated to a sanctuary later in the year.
The history of Marghazar Zoo
The 28-hectare Marghazar Zoo was originally opened in 1978 as a wildlife sanctuary in the Margalla Hills in Islamabad but was later converted into a zoo. The zoo has been owned by the Pakistani capital Islamabad since its establishment. In the past four years, over two dozen animals have died at Marghazar Zoo, including six lion cubs. The zoo’s inadequate keeping conditions have repeatedly made international headlines. In 2016, FOUR PAWS was on site, mainly to assess the health status of elephant Kaavan, and wrote a comprehensive report on the improvement of the keeping conditions, which has not been implemented to date.