Worse than animals

Last week a friend of mine reached out to me and asked me to write about the plight of zoo animals in Pakistan. She also shared the incident in Karachi where a man was killing stray dogs. I am ashamed to admit that I don’t remember the last time I had thought of the plight of animals in Pakistan. I am not an animal lover, but I feel sad when I see stray dogs who are weak with hunger or suffering from physical ailments. I will feed the stray cat that’s part of the household now, but in all honesty, the plight of animals, whether homeless or zoo animals, did not cross my mind until she reached out. It made me realize that we need more people like her concerned about animal welfare and that animals are an integral part of this world, an essential part that is unfortunately as neglected as human beings in Pakistan. I realized that the injustice humans are subjected to in my country and the inequality and neglect they are experiencing takes up so much space in my psyche that animals are not a priority.
But if we won’t stand up for them, then who will? The man killing dogs killed a pregnant dog by hanging her with an iron grill and is emotionally disturbed. I fear that he will be let go after some time. Again, unfortunately, in Pakistan, where people don’t get justice, who will consider a homeless dog?
The condition of wildlife parks and zoos in Pakistan is yet another symbol of the decline that this country is experiencing in many spheres of life here. But just like we are trying to create awareness about issues that affect us, be it an economic crisis, a failing justice system, or poor health care, we also need to pay attention to zoos and wildlife parks because animals are being grossly mistreated. Noor Jehan, the elephant who died in Karachi Zoo after falling ill and neglected, is one of many animals that suffer from poor nutrition or physical ailments. The ten public, twenty-five private zoos, and twenty-eight wildlife parks in Pakistan have no system, no checks and balances, and no association overseeing how the animals are kept and cared for. Not only are these animals poorly fed, but they are kept in horrible conditions. No professional vets do regular check ups, and no emergency medical assistance is provided.
No one is talking about these animals. No one cares. I have heard stories of zoo keepers physically hitting these animals, not feeding them on time, and not caring about their environment, and it would not be an assumption to say that they are as good as dead, which is heartbreaking. WWF Pakistan is primarily involved in conserving species in their natural habitat. Still, lately, it is trying to create awareness about Pakistan’s protection and animal welfare issues.
We need to make more noise in creating awareness about the plight of zoo animals. Social media personalities like bloggers, for example, should use their popularity to get the government’s attention in focusing on improving Zoo standards, working on legislation, and working on having a regulated system that governs zoos and wildlife facilities in Pakistan so they can adhere to the ethical standards of international zoo associations.
We owe it to the animals that are an integral part of the world to raise our voices for their safety. What differentiates us from animals is empathy, humanity, and the ability to do something. Yet, we choose to exercise none of that with these innocent animals who silently and helplessly wait to see how they will be treated at the hands of humans whose attitude is worse than animals where animals, for us, ironically are culturally symbolized as something to fear, be violent and can put our life to risk.
I hope that sooner than later, the government or some private organization can step in and do something about the plight of animals in our country and work towards protecting them and prove our humanity.

The writer is a BACP (British Association For Counselling and Psychotherapy) accredited individual and couple psychotherapist based in Islamabad. She can be reached at zaramaqbool@yahoo.com or her official website.