Islamabad zoo lions die in tragic transfer
Two Islamabad zoo lions have died while being transferred to a permanent home. Image Credit: Friends of Islamabad Zoo

Islamabad: Islamabad police are pursuing those responsible for the death of two lions during transfer after the animals suffered horrific injuries at the hands of caretakers exposed in a shocking video.

The case registered at Islamabad’s Kohsar police station on Thursday night reports that “three people were seen in the video torturing the lions and later also lit fires inside the enclosure which resulted in serious injuries and eventual deaths of the lions.” The statement demands, “Legal action against the people in the video and all those responsible” for the tragedy in which “Pakistan lost two precious animals”.

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The police registered the case under Section 429 of the Pakistan Penal Code for the alleged deaths. The section makes it a criminal offense to kill, maim, poison or render useless any animal, punishable with five years imprisonment, or with fine, or both. Pakistan’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1890 was amended in 2018, increasing the punishments and fines from Rs200 to Rs300,000, but experts call for an inclusive approach with new legislation and initiatives to raise public awareness and compassion towards all living beings.

Why were animals being moved from Islamabad Zoo?

Both lions of Islamabad Zoo that died during transfer were on their way to a private lion farm in Lahore after the Islamabad court ordered in May to shift all animals to sanctuaries due to the pitiable state of the zoo where dozens of neglected animals have died in the past. Most of the 380 animals have been moved from the zoo that now has only 30 animals including an elephant to be shifted to a sanctuary in Cambodia.

Who is responsible for the tragedy?

In its verdict, Islamabad High Court ordered the relocation of all zoo animals to sanctuaries within 60 days. Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB) was tasked to arrange the transfer with the assistance of Metropolitan Corporation Islamabad (MCI) and the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) chief commissioner. The court also ordered that the Minister in charge of the Ministry of Climate Change and Board members shall be jointly liable for the well-being of each animal till relocation.

After the unfortunate death of the lions, IWMB clarified that the ill-trained staff did not belong to the zoo or IWMB but were sent by the private farm to facilitate the transfer and hence the board has launched an inquiry into the “unprofessional” treatment. Meanwhile, Adviser to the PM on Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam has also formed an inquiry committee to investigate the deaths.

Animal lovers demand justice

However, animal rights activists and Islamabad citizens have equally blamed the zoo authorities and the wildlife board for the “criminal negligence”.

“The IWMB can’t simply shift the burden of responsibility to the animal handlers and cover its negligence by scapegoating the private breeders’ company hired to transfer animals,” said Nadeem Omar Tarar, the petitioner who sought relief for animals in the court last year. He demanded, “fair investigation into the cruelty towards animals by untrained staff and fix responsibility.”

Expressing its disappointment, WWF-Pakistan said that although there are risks when an animal is moved from one facility to another but “there is absolutely no excuse for the treatment of an animal as seen in the videos”. The organization calls for an immediate need to upgrade zoo laws in Pakistan. Experts say that transferring animals is a tricky and meticulous process that requires highly-trained staff, facilities and strict protocols to ensure a smooth and stress-free relocation – which were perhaps not followed by Pakistani experts.

The deplorable living condition at zoos across Pakistan has resulted in deaths of several animals over the years marked by mistakes that included neglect, poor diet, and lack of facilities and trained staff.