Ambitious plans to upgrade Lahore Zoo and Safari Park, costing an estimated Rs.5 billion, have been approved by the caretaker Chief Minister of Punjab, Mohsin Naqvi. While a final green signal is awaited from the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), the overall feasibility and necessity of the upgrade require some thought. Once upgraded, the zoo and safari park will be a recreational facility of international standards. However, a history of carelessness regarding animals’ safety and health invites concern.
The plan intends to bring rare and exotic animal species to Lahore and to upgrade cage designs but little do we know what is in the pipeline for ensuring standard and healthy man-made habitats for these species. Whether or not any feasibility assessments have been carried out in that regard also remains to be seen. What temperatures are safe for these animals and what will be done to maintain the desired temperatures given that Lahore receives its fair share of heat in summers; are some of the questions that must be addressed before taking up such an initiative.
The cry from animal welfare organisations and individuals has already been heard loud and clear when an extensive campaign led to moving Kaavan–the elephant from Islamabad Zoo, and the subsequent closure of the zoo. Now if the renovation and uplift of Lahore’s zoo is being planned, those in charge must know that there is no room for such casualness. Experts must be consulted on each species’ ideal survival conditions and the upgradation should follow from there on.
If the ECP deems it right for the caretaker government to allocate such a substantial budget, transparent decision-making and execution of the upgrade will be the next key step. Already Himalayan brown bears in Karachi are exposed to health risks. The topmost priority in the Lahore Zoo and Safari Park’s renovation should be animal welfare and care. This will be possible once experts in animal conservation are also taken on board.