October Issue 2015

By | Special Report | Published 8 years ago

“Everything in the zoo is fine. Even during the heatwave, everything was fine. Just one blue peacock and one or two monkeys died — but that was because they were old,” said Suleman Sajjad Hussain, the chief security officer at the Karachi Zoo.

Alas, reports from both Dawn and the Express Tribune do not corroborate his misplaced confidence. According to Dawn, an ostrich, a nigla (the largest Asian antelope),   three deers, a peacock and a peahen died during the ghastly heatwave, which killed over 1,200 Karachiites. The Express Tribune, meanwhile, listed the deaths of two peacocks, one brown monkey, a fallow deer, one hyena and two green monkeys.

Hussain’s protestations about the welfare of animals in the cages of the Karachi Zoo would perhaps have been more convincing had I not personally visited the premises. One of the first sights upon entering the zoo was that of two elephants in disproportionately small cages, restlessly circling their enclosures as crowds of people banged against the cage bars to draw them closer.

When I shared my horror at seeing the poor creatures confined to such small spaces, Hussain pointed to a larger cage in the opposite direction, with a water trough and wet mud. “This is where the elephants soak themselves and where they are usually kept. Right now, they are in the smaller cages only so that people can have a clearer view of them,” he said. And then he proceeded to show me where the elephants are showered post their mud baths: in large cages with big showerheads.


The zoo’s chief security officer claimed, “We have no water shortage. And if it gets too hot, we give the animals huge blocks of ice to cool off. During the heat wave, we even put ORS in their water, and sprinkle it on the slabs of ice we give them, to ensure the well-being of the animals.” Furthermore, he said, the zoo has many additional facilities, including generators, heaters, a 24-hour vet, and a full panel of doctors. In fact, there is a hospital at the zoo, but it is non-functional and it has been nine years since any animal received treatment at the hospital, according to a report in Dawn.

Admittedly, most cages were relatively clean, but the crocodile pond was a deplorable sight: empty bottles lay all over the pond. Several empty cages were filled with garbage. And paan stains polluted the surrounding walls and even the plants. Some even had pro-MQM graffiti chalked on them.

Life for animals in the open is even worse. Mahera Omar, co-founder of the Pakistan Animal Welfare Society  (PAWS) — a society that has previously worked on rescuing injured animals, stray or domestic, and currently assists in coordinating and putting owners of injured animals, or strangers who come across injured animals, in touch with vets — says, “In the case of working animals, people here believe that if you injure an animal, it will work better, run faster.  So this leads to cuts in donkeys’ legs, and you will also notice some donkeys have nostrils that are slit. This is done with a hot knife, without any anesthesia.” Ayesha Chundrigar, the founder of the Ayesha Chundrigar Foundation (ACF) which works towards rescuing stray animals in Karachi who are injured or abused, and providing them shelter, medical treatment and food, adds, “The way donkeys are treated is the absolute worst. I have stood on the road and told donkey owners to bring their animals to me, so that I can provide them treatment.” She adds, “A lot of the time, owners initially resist treatment for their donkeys. They are suspicious of what we want from these animals, who are their source of livelihood.”

Under the aegis of the ACF, Chundrigar launched donkey camps — a programme that enables donkey owners to bring their injured animals to receive food and treatment, and where Chundrigar and her staffers “educate the owners about the treatment that should be meted out to donkeys through the means of model behaviour.”

“I understand that donkeys are often a family’s sole source of income, so we teach the owners how to care for their animals, and we instill in them the awareness that if their work animals are treated well, they will get more out of them. We started with about 5 or 10 donkeys, but now we treat about 53-78 donkeys every two weeks in various areas around the city, from Defence to Korangi, Memon Goth, and even Malir Cantt,” she says. Chundrigar has been running the ACF at the Edhi animal shelter — which currently houses about 130-150 animals — since 2013. She started it on the one-month death anniversary of her pet dog.

PAWS’ Omar laments that the mindset of the public is shared by the country’s government officials.

Feeding puppies“It took three years for PAWS to be registered as a bonafide animal welfare society, because officials kept finding faults with the articles of association and goals we had mentioned.  For example, we wanted to introduce a service of guide dogs for the blind, or people who are hard of hearing, but this was objected to by whichever department is responsible for registration. They rejected it, stating that it is against the cultural norms and values of our society,” Omar stated, adding that PAWS was eventually registered in 2008 with the help of the late columnist, Ardeshir Cowasjee, who was an animal lover himself.

As for the dog, man’s best friend, there is a belief that dogs’ saliva is napak (unclean), and so they must be avoided.

Mohammad Hanif recently addressed this issue in an article published in the New York Times. He explained how the attitudes prevalent in some segments of society cannot be attributed to the Holy Quran in which there were few references to dogs — except in one significant instance (in Surah Al Kahf – The Cave). Hanif brought to light a story that many may not know of: “The only real dog that appears in the text,” he wrote, “is a companion of the People of the Cave, a small group of young men who, threatened by an ancient king after refusing to abandon their faith, hide in a cave and take a 309-year-long nap. During these three centuries of hiding, their dog lay stretched out at the entrance of the cave to keep any intruders at bay. The fable evokes not revulsion, but time travel and companionship.”

Whether it is cultural bias or some other underlying reason for a non-dog-friendly atmosphere, canines have often been at the receiving end of officialdoms’ hard line. They shoot and poison stray dogs and then, along with the bodies of dogs that have been run over, line up their corpses for a photo shoot. Chundrigar says this is the official method to control the stray dog population. She argues they can be more humane. “They can neuter and spay dogs to avoid over-population. This is something we do at ACF,” she says. Omar mentioned, “In India, there is a rabies programme in which they travel countrywide and assist with the spaying and neutering of dogs in order to prevent rabies. They also create awareness by talking to school-going kids. But over here, in Pakistan, people are surprised when you help an injured animal.”

The ACF and PAWS both started operations with the funds mustered by those who launched these organisations. And while ACF continues to provide rescue services, PAWS has been unable to keep its rescue services going due to a lack of funds and resources. Their main role now is to assist pet owners and strangers who come across injured animals get in touch with experienced vets.

“Initially, we would rescue animals ourselves. People would contact us through Facebook about an animal in need. We’d rush to the site with a vet.  But we would end up having to keep the animal in our own houses, and this became problematic because a lot of the time people did not adopt them, so we would end up housing several animals. And that was just not feasible,” says Omar. “Furthermore,” she adds, “we don’t have the funds to continue to provide rescue services, because often that entails not just rescuing an injured animal, but also taking the animal to a vet, paying for treatment — which in some serious cases requires surgery.“

So far, PAWS has managed to survive due to donations from friends, family and strangers. But to make it a truly viable organisation, this ad-hoc financial arrangement will have to be replaced by a more realistic, feasible one.

The ACF, meanwhile, has managed to organise between about 700 to 800 adoptions so far — proof that animal lovers do exist in the city. It too has financial constraints, but receives enough funding to continue with its rescue services. “People were so happy to see what I was doing for animals, they started to help out financially. I have one or two consistent donors,” Chundrigar disclosed. However, this may change. The ACF is currently in the middle of shifting premises to work independent of the Edhi Welfare Centre. “Now that we’re moving premises we’ll need substantially more funding. I want to hire a separate team for the donkey camps and a separate team for the organisation itself. The new shelter will provide more space, a proper quarantine area and an operation theatre.”

Feeding Cats

Sharing a rescue story that went viral on Facebook, Chundrigar told Newsline, “In December last year — a very cold winter — we found a female dog whose face had almost been ripped out. She had no eyeballs in her sockets, and she was cradling five puppies. We picked her up and provided her treatment, but she did not survive as she was extremely malnourished. I silently promised then that I would make sure her puppies would be alright.” The puppies survived and were later adopted into loving homes.

Another heart-wrenching story Chundrigar shared was that of a dog who had been beaten and pelted with stones for several weeks. The injured stray was found in a Sohrab Goth neighbourhood by a woman when he was in fatal condition. She tried tending to his open wounds herself, before calling ACF for help. The ACF attempted to save his life, but he was beyond cure, so the ACF had to resort to euthanising him.

A success story Chundrigar did share, however, was of a dog that was shot seven times. “The bullets had gone through the dog and come out the other side. Thankfully the bullets missed his organs, but he was still in severe pain. We got a frantic phone call from a man who had found the stray under a car. We took care of him at the shelter and he is fine now,” she said.

“We also found a donkey who was burned, cut, and bleeding. We tried to cut into her stomach to save her, and that was when we realised that she was pregnant. She gave birth to a baby, who was malnourished and also hurt,” Chundrigar narrated, adding, “The foal didn’t survive, but her mother — who was severely traumatised — did.” 

Chundrigar acknowledges that raising awareness helps change attitudes. “Through the donkey camps it is evident that people are changing their attitudes towards animal welfare. A lot of donkey owners revisit us when the camps take place. And increasingly, I have seen all sorts of people come forth to protect animals,” she said. PAWS’ Omar shares similar sentiments, adding that loving and caring for animals cuts across class or income backgrounds. “We get a lot of positive feedback, especially on Facebook. We do sometimes get bashed for helping animals, but we ignore those people.”

PPrevention of Cruelty to Animals AWS and ACF are both private organisations working for the welfare of animals. But the perennial question remains: What is the government’s role in the welfare of animals?

“There used to be a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in the country which had animal inspectors on its payroll. In fact Cowasjee was the second last president of the organisation,” Omar said. According to an article co-written by Omar and Zia, the SPCA is currently only functional in Lahore. It further states that the SPCA in Karachi had an animal shelter with the capacity to hold about 150 animals up until the 1980s. However, Lady Constantine — the president of the society back then — had to deal with similar issues being faced by ACF and PAWS today; that of limited funds. And after her death came a pause in providing services to animals in Karachi.

“The SPCA had officers who would fine people for being cruel to animals. So it’s crucial that animal inspectors are reinstated,” Omar asserted.

It’s not surprising that the government has continuously dropped the ball regarding animal welfare. It is perhaps  less surprising that the public, which is more concerned with gaining access to the basic necessities of life, cares little about the welfare of animals. But a progressive, caring society is built slowly, with simple charitable acts like putting water out during a heatwave for birds and other animals. Thankfully, all is not lost. A few caring individuals have taken the first few steps in the right direction. Now it’s time for the rest to follow suit.


This article was originally published in Newsline’s October 2015 issue.

Raisa Vayani is an Editorial Assistant at Newsline