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KMC impedes efforts to release Himalayan bear into natural habitat

KMC impedes efforts to release Himalayan bear into natural habitat

KARACHI: The Karachi Metrop­olitan Corporation (KMC) and zoo authorities are impeding efforts to rescue a Himalayan bear languishing at Karachi Zoological Gardens for the past several years and release her to its habitat in northern Pakistan, it emerged on Sunday.

Named Rani, the brown bear was brought to the zoo in 2017 along with a black bear. The latter died a few years back.

According to sources, members of a provincial task force on the zoo/Safari Park in its first meeting held in April this year had recommended that the zoo’s lone female brown bear — a critically endangered species in Pakistan and the largest mammal in the region — should be shifted either to a wildlife sanctuary or released in its habitat in the northern areas.

“Unfortunately, however, this suggestion duly endorsed by the then min­i­ster hasn’t been materialised yet on account of persistent hurdles being created by the zoo and the Karachi Metropolitan Corpor­ation (KMC), wh­i­ch is responsible for running facilities for captive animals in the city,” a senior official privy to the meeting shared .

Mahera Omar says authorities have done great injustice by keeping the animal of colder climates at zoo

The KMC, he said, was so much opposed to the idea that the task force’s recommendation was exclu­ded from the meeting’s minutes.

According to sources, zoo officials consider the bear, like the rest of the animals, as their ‘property’ and a source of revenue generation that they don’t want to lose.

“Unofficially, they have asked for a black bear in replacement, if the suggestion for brown bear’s relocation is implemented,” another official said.

Zoo Director Iqbal Nawaz was not available for comments despite repeated attempts by Dawn.

Chief Wildlife Conservator Javed Ahmed Mahar, also part of the task force, confirmed that the task force in its first meeting had recommended relocation of the brown bear but action on the proposal was still awaited.

“Being a resident of colder climates, she shouldn’t be here at all,” he said, adding that no form of captive life could help the bear live a natural wild life.

“She must be missing her life. These bears are omnivores and go into hibernation in a cave or dug-out den in winters,” he said.

Mr Mahar recalled he found Rani in pitiable condition when he last saw her. “There was no spark in her eyes and her fur was ruined.”

He was of the opinion that the bear could either be shifted to the rehab and rescue centre run by the Islam­abad Wildlife Management Board before release to the Deosai National Park — a facility established in 1993 to protect the survival of the critically endangered Hima­layan brown bear and its habitat.

Illegal trade

Sources regretted that the zoo had received several animals classified as critically endangered from “unknown sources” in the past but the facility never had to face an investigation.

These species, they pointed out, included chimpanzees whose trade/exchange was internationally banned except for scientific purposes but the zoo authorities were never made to disclose the sources “gifting” these animals.

“They [KMC] should clearly disclose the source/s as these animals are not their property” emphasised Mahera Omar, co-founder Pakistan Animal Welfare Society (Paws).

About Rani’s predicament, she said animal rights activists were willing to approach courts to rescue Rani, if the need arose.

“The Balkasar sanctuary exclusively meant for the rehabilitation of rescued bears [in Punjab’s Chakwal district] is very willing to take her. The Sindh government should do the right thing and let her go.”

The local authorities, she said, had done a great injustice by keeping an animal of colder climates here at the zoo.

“We citizens of Karachi demand that local authorities free Rani from the prison she has been languishing in for years and hand it over to experts at the sanctuary,” she said, adding that there were several animals that needed to be rescued from the zoo.

It might be recalled that Rani’s case was taken up by the court a few years back which only forced the authorities to shift her to a bigger cage.

Published in Dawn, September 18th, 2023

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