It took a court case, an American singer and an international animal rescue organisation to free Kaavan known as — the “world’s loneliest elephant”— from Islamabad Zoo and fly him to a sanctuary in Cambodia.
Costing upwards of $500,000, his release in December 2020 made world headlines heaping humiliation on Pakistan for its lack of compassion for sentient wildlife.
Thirty years ago on a visit to Pakistan, I recall weeping for a Snow Leopard – a precious Snow Leopard – caged in an air conditioned box the size of a refrigerator in Lahore Zoo.
And it seems that nothing has changed.
Daily I receive distressing Facebook posts of other elephants kept in chains, of a bear lying on the concrete floor of a cage in Karachi, of an emaciated lion in Dera Ghazi Khan of the death of a giraffe in a zoo, without shade or veterinary care, in Peshawar.
Even as I write, a video has arrived of the horrific “sport” of bear-baiting still practiced in remote parts of the Punjab and Baluchistan.
Where is the mercy and compassion for animals advocated by the Prophet Muhammad (s)?
This is not to say there are not many kind Pakistanis caring for the thousands of stray dogs, cats and donkeys broken under unbearable loads.
But opposing them are bureaucrats open to bribes and zoo proprietors profiting from pitiful animal prisons.
Wildlife officials who grant licences to trophy hunters have innocent blood on their hands.
The excuse for killing a legendary big-horned markhor —Pakistan’s national animal— in Astore was the animal was old.
That the $61,500 fee for the permit, issued to an American hunter by Gilgit-Baltistan wildlife and forestry department would be spent on local infrastructure.
I am further dismayed to read the Foreign Ministry recently granted rights for the 2021 houbara hunting season to Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed and his entourage of hundreds.
In 2015 Pakistan’s Supreme Court banned killing the vulnerable bustard, a decision ignored due to fear of vexing the oil-rich Gulf Arab visitors.
Rural villagers around Panjgur in Baluchistan, a popular hunting area, are complicit in providing servants, cooks and trackers to locate where the birds are nesting.
They also trap wild falcons which the Arabs train to hunt houbara whose meat, though stringy, they believe has aphrodisiac properties. One falcon I saw was sold to a retainer acting on behalf of a sheikh for $200,000!
With such amounts at stake, why should an impoverished chick-pea farmer care about the bustard of which the International Fund for Houbara Conservation estimates only 42,000 remain in Asia.
Excessive hunting and the degradation of natural habitat by convoys of four-wheel drives are equally to blame for the decline of the bustard which migrates to Pakistan to escape the northern hemisphere winter.
With Prime Minister Khan making progress in other areas, it is a pity the ban was overturned on his watch. Especially since he opposed hunting the houbara when in opposition.