Ailing elephant which evoked a wave of public sympathy dies in Karachi zoo

Misting fans are placed beside the body of an elephant named "Noor Jehan" at a zoo in Karachi, Pakistan, Saturday, April 22, 2023. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan)

An ailing elephant at a Pakistan zoo died on Saturday, vets said, calling on the menagerie to evacuate her “mourning” partner to avert a second tragedy.

Named after Noor Jehan, the queen of the fourth 17th-century Mughal emperor Jehangir, the 17-year-old pachyderm was operated on by foreign veterinarians last week at Karachi Zoo but did not recover properly, with her condition worsening to an alarming extent, Kanwar Ayub, the director of Karachi Zoo, told Anadolu.

Noor Jehan, which was brought to Karachi Zoo along with three other elephants some 13 years ago, was mainly suffering from a huge hematoma, or a pool of clotted blood, inside her abdomen in addition to intestinal issues.

Earlier this week, she had fallen into a pond and could not pull herself out due to her weak hind legs, badly affected by the illnesses she had been suffering from for months, apparently because of inadequate care and treatment.

Later, on the recommendation by Four Paws, a global animal welfare organisation, the zoo staff used a crane, ropes and belts to pull her out.

She was one of the last four captive elephants in Pakistan, all in Karachi, including two at the zoo.

A video of Noor Jehan showing her limping and struggling to stand, apparently due to weakness, went viral on social and mainstream media last week, sparking a public outcry and calls for shutting down the zoo.

“It saddens us immensely that Noor Jehan’s story came to a heartbreaking ending. We would like to thank everyone who worked day and night during these challenging times to try and give Noor Jehan a chance at survival.

“We hope the authorities in Pakistan will take Noor Jehan’s sad fate as an example and do better for captive wild animals in the country in the future,” Four Paws said, welcoming the government’s decision to consider closing down Karachi Zoo permanently.

A team of Austrian and Egyptian vets was scheduled to arrive in Karachi next week to assess Noor Jehan’s condition.

Four Paws had also arranged the transfer of 36-year-old Kaavan, the country’s “loneliest” elephant, to a wildlife sanctuary in Cambodia in November 2020 to spend its remaining years following a years-long campaign by animal lovers from across the globe.

Animal rights groups have long been blaming the zoo management, which is already understaffed and without trained vets, for neglect and maltreatment that has resulted in the deaths of several wild animals in recent years.

The veterinarians have already suggested shifting Madhubala, now the only elephant at Karachi Zoo, to “specific species housing,” fearing that she might suffer a similar fate due to “inappropriate” conditions at the facility.

Last year, an Austrian veterinarian team operated on Madhubala, an 18-year-old elephant named after a legendary Indian actress, to relieve her pain caused by a broken tusk infection.

Endorsing the suggestion, Ayub said that arrangements are being made to relocate Madhubala to the city’s only Safari Park, where another two elephants are living in an “adequate environment.”

In April 2020, a court ordered the only zoo in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad to shut down after poor facilities and mistreatment of the animals there were revealed.