As the coronavirus overwhelmingly changed the cycle of life, with quarantines and social distancing becoming the new normal, several people compared their lives to that of zoo animals who live their lives under perpetual lockdowns and other safety measures.
In Pakistan, zoos are the go-to place for entertainment due to a severe dearth of recreational facilities, especially for children. With the pandemic-related shutdowns, zoos too were closed down leaving a variety of animals without any visitors.
“Apart from the big zoos in Lahore and Karachi, which are semi-autonomous and also receive funds from donors, the small zoos in other cities survive on government funding. Unfortunately, due to the health emergency imposed in the country, the smaller zoos have suffered,” informed Rizwan Mahboob, a public policy expert in environment and wildlife.
Since the coronavirus pandemic upended life as we know it, Mahboob has been volunteering at zoos across Punjab to help feed the animals and even play with them as their original keepers are contractual employees — many of whom have been laid off due to the financial crunch. Talking to Sabaat, Mahboob urged animal lovers and students to make the most of this opportunity and volunteer at zoos and animal shelters.
As has been the case with people, the mental health of zoo animals has also been affected due to the lockdowns and other precautionary measures. According to Dr Abid Hussain, a Lahore-based veterinarian, “Zoo animals are used to seeing people every day but when they suddenly saw them disappear they were initially disturbed. Due to this the employees of the zoos and their handlers had to change their routines so they could give animals more company as they were feeling lonely.”
On the contrary, Dr Taimur Saleem from The Vets Animal Hospital believes that zoo animals have not been disturbed with the sudden disappearance of people. “Humans are destructive in nature as compared to animals. This lockdown has been very fruitful for the animals as they are relaxing, eating much better and able to sleep a lot as well,” he said, adding that, “Globally, too, we have seen cases where animals are exploring areas where they have never been seen before as humans would scare them away.”
Another disturbing effect of the lockdowns and slump in businesses has been on pet stores which had to close shop and make alternative arrangements for the animals. As soon as the lockdown started, animal rights activists have been on their toes by rescuing animals from pet markets in most major cities. Sarah Gandapur, an animal rights activist, said, “Authorities in Lahore Zoo listened to us and let us check the condition of animals. It was good to see that they have been looking after the animals even in these tough conditions.”
Rights activists are of the opinion that while people’s primary concern should be to save human lives, they shouldn’t forget about the lesser species which are dependent on them, especially in this hour of need.