KARACHI: The global animal welfare organization, Four Paws, has warned that the condition of an ailing elephant at Karachi Zoo was deteriorating daily and Pakistani authorities had halted communication regarding plans to relocate her to a new and more species-appropriate sanctuary.
Madhubala, one of only three captive elephants alive in Pakistan, was brought to the South Asian country with three other elephants from Tanzania in 2009. One of her long-time companions, 17-year-old Noor Jehan, had multiple illnesses and passed away in April at Karachi Zoo in a case that caught global attention and put the spotlight on the treatment of zoo animals in Pakistan.
In 2020, Four Paws relocated Kaavan — an elephant dubbed the world’s loneliest — to Cambodia from Islamabad.
In August, the mayor of Karachi, Murtaza Wahab, gave the go-ahead to Four Paws to relocate Madhubala to a new sanctuary at Karachi’s Safari Park in the city. But she remained at a small enclosure at the Karachi Zoo, where her mental condition, Four Paws said, “worsens every day.”
“Despite the efforts undertaken by global animal welfare organization Four Paws, officials in Karachi still have not signed the Memorandum of Understanding. This is a precondition for the substantial overhaul of her new home in Karachi Safari Park and ultimately her relocation,” the animal rights group said a statement emailed to Arab News on Tuesday.
The plans for the reconstruction of her new enclosure were handed over to officials more than a month ago, Four Paws said, but since then communication has stopped.
Madhubala’s new home will be substantially bigger than her present one, making it species-appropriate as it will include a pool, enrichments and proper care management.
Iqbal Nawaz, a senior director at Karachi Zoo, said there were no hurdles in signing the MoU for the elephant’s relocation.
“An MoU can be signed once the Four Paws team arrives in Karachi. There is no hurdle on our part, we want the relocation of the elephant,” Nawaz said.
He disputed claims that she was in a bad state:
“The condition of the elephant is also good. She is healthy.”
Mission leader of the Four Paws expert team, Dr. Amir Khalil, said that the welfare organization was ready to relocate the animal but needed an official invitation.
“We are more than ready to finally proceed with our plans for the relocation of Madhubala. What we need is a formal confirmation and an invitation by the Mayor of Karachi, Murtaza Wahab, so our team of experts can travel back to Pakistan as soon as possible,” Khalil said.
“After what happened to her beloved Noor Jehan, we cannot allow exposing Madhubala to any potential health risk. We need to act now by assisting the reconstruction efforts of her new home and starting to train Madhubala for the big moving day.”
Four Paws said the death of Noor Jehan, as well as being in solitary confinement since this tragic incident, had “taken a strong toll on the mental condition of Madhubala.”
In April 2023, after the death of Noor Jehan, the Karachi administration constituted a taskforce on wildlife in captivity, zoos and the Safari Park in Karachi. The body consists of representatives from relevant local and provincial authorities, including Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) and international and local NGOs and animal welfare activists.
The taskforce is empowered to take decisions regarding Karachi’s elephants. During a visit in April, Four Paws clearly stated their willingness to support the relocation of Madhubala, but only if it was done to a species-appropriate place, run by an independent body from the local authorities.
KMC officials did not respond to requests for comment for this story.