A man walks past the main gate of the Marghazar Zoo which is officially closed to the public in Islamabad on Wednesday. AP
The only zoo in Pakistan's capital — which drew international condemnation for its treatment of lonely elephant Kaavan — closed on Wednesday after its final occupants were relocated abroad.
Two Himalayan bears named Bubloo and Suzzee were the last to leave the Islamabad facility, almost three weeks after the country's only Asian elephant was flown to a wildlife sanctuary in Cambodia.
'Bubloo' is seen inside its enclosure at the Marghazar Zoo. AFP
"The Islamabad zoo is now completely closed for both public and officials," Saleem Shaikh, a spokesman for Pakistan's ministry of climate change said.
"Both the bears will be flown to a sanctuary in Jordan."
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Shaikh said the move was arranged with the help of Four Paws International — the same group that spearheaded the relocation of Kaavan whose plight championed by singer and Oscar-winning American actress Cher. She flew to Pakistan to see the elephant's departure, and then to Cambodia to watch him arrive.
The ailing health of Kaavan, an overweight, 35-year-old bull, highlighted the woeful state of Islamabad's zoo, where conditions were so bad that a judge in May ordered all animals to be moved.
Suzzee sits at his enclosure. AP
Two lions died during their relocation when zookeepers attempted to pry them from their pen by setting ablaze piles of hay. An ostrich also died in the move.
Islamabad Zoo was established in 1978 on 10 hectares of land as a home for indigenous species. Authorities now plan to expand it as a wildlife conservation centre.
Cher feeds Kavaan at a wildlife sanctuary in Cambodia. AFP
With little legislation to safeguard animal welfare, zoos across Pakistan are notorious for their poor conditions. In 2018, some 30 animals died within months of a new zoo opening in the northwestern city of Peshawar, including three snow leopard cubs.
"I am so proud he is here," she said, after greeting Kaavan through an opening at the base of the crate. "He's going to be really happy here," said Cher, adding that she was hopeful his ordeal was over.
Although no PCR test for the new coronavirus was conducted, zoo deputy director Kiran Saleem said the zoo believes the cubs were the victims of the pandemic that has killed 12,256 people in Pakistan.
"We have just heard from Pakistan High Court Kaavan is free," the singer and animal rights campaigner tweeted on Thursday in capital letters, adding a string of emojis and saying she felt "sick." "This is one of the greatest moments of my life," she said.
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