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: Two lions of Islamabad Zoo met a terrible fate at the hands of unprofessional animal caretakers as they died while being transferred to the private lion farm in Lahore from Islamabad Zoo this week. The Islamabad court had ordered in May to move all animals to their sanctuaries due to the poor state of the zoo.

Tragic transfer of animals

What shocked many was a video in which the caretakers are seen igniting fire inside the enclosure as they yelled “move, move” in an attempt to force the big cat to step out of the cage. The disturbed lion is seen roaring and moving frantically inside the small cage full of fire and smoke, resulting in severe injuries, suffocation and eventually death. Reports also claimed that the lion was beaten with sticks during the transfer. The officials claim that the ill-trained caretakers did not belong to the zoo or Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB) but were sent to facilitate the lion’s transfer.

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Unprofessional and criminal

The lioness lost her life during the journey while the lion succumbed to his injuries two days later on Wednesday. “We are extremely sad at the loss of two beautiful animals,” said IWMB Chairman Dr. Anis Rehman. IWMB has launched an inquiry into the “unprofessional” treatment of animals and may also consider criminal proceedings against those responsible for the death of the lions.

Not the best time to transfer animals

The news comes only a day after the nine-year-old lioness died while being transferred from Islamabad Zoo to Mohiuddin Private Breeding Farm in Lahore. Dr Anis said the lion possibly died “due to travel stress” and possibly the hot and humid weather. Ministry of Climate Change officials said it was unwise to “shift animals in extreme temperatures.”

At least one female hog deer, two ostriches and several exotic pheasants also died during the ill-fated journey to a sanctuary. Most of the 380 animals have been moved from Islamabad Zoo that now has only 30 animals including rabbits, monkeys, and 36-year-old elephant Kaavan, who is to be shifted to a sanctuary in Cambodia.

WWF condemns animal abuse and demand justice

WWF-Pakistan strongly condemned the ill treatment of the lions saying, “It is absolutely abhorrent and unacceptable” and hoped that “those who are responsible will be brought to justice for this repulsive act.” In the wake of the disastrous incident, WWF-Pakistan has also stepped down from the Board of the IWMB to register its protest.

Although there are risks when a wild animal is moved from one facility to another, “there is absolutely no excuse for the treatment of an animal as seen in the videos”, the wildlife organisation said. WWF experts reiterated that there is an immediate need for rules and regulations for both public and private zoos in Pakistan so that the well-being of animals is ensured and such incidents are not repeated. Rab Nawaz, a senior director at WWF said the news and the videos were “unacceptable and deeply upsetting”.

Animal lovers shocked and heartbroken, demand justice

Islamabad citizens reacted angrily to the deaths as they blamed the zoo authorities and caretakers involved in the transfer for the “criminal negligence” that killed the two healthy animals.

“I am heartbroken! This is beyond horrible! This sort of treatment of animals is condemnable and criminal. All those responsible must be immediately held accountable in the court,” Samia Khan, a local resident, told Gulf News.

Neiha Siddiqui, a volunteer at Islamabad Zoo, said the incident could have been avoided if protocols were followed. “Can the animals be brought to the zoo without proper technology, caging, equipment and a team of professionals? How can Pakistan have zoos but no proper professional teams to look after it?”

Friends of Islamabad Zoo, an animal welfare group, said the team was “heartbroken at the unbearable loss of animal life” that occurred due to “mismanagement and unqualified” staff and those involved in the relocation. “We all strongly condemn this gross lack of oversight which has resulted in the deaths of both lions, two ostriches and other animals.” They hoped the court would take notice of the “criminal negligence and cruelty to animals which should not go unpunished.”

Owais Awan, the lawyer who pursued the case of Islamabad’s lone elephant, said he was saddened at the tragic loss of lives after the court ordered to shift all animals. “I am positive that court will take action on this.”