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Report by Asra Haque

Recognizing the rights of animals, Islamabad High Court (IHC) Chief Justice Athar Minallah on Thursday, May 21, ordered the prompt relocation of the wildlife held in captivity at the Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad to sanctuaries within or outside the country. Citing insufficient resources rendering the zoo incapable of catering to the physiological, psychosocial, and behavioral needs of its animals, Justice Athar Minallah observed that the animals have had to suffer undue pain and suffering.

Per the Pakistan Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1890, animals are legally recognized as sentient beings. Any act that would cause harm, pain, or suffering to a human being can, under legal definitions, also cause the same to non-human creatures. Furthermore, acts of cruelty are abhorrent not just to the justice system and to morality but are also denounced in Islam.

These arguments were presented in light of the rights contained within the Constitution of Pakistan, which extends to subjects it refers to “persons” or “citizens” rather than “living beings”, leaving out non-humans from Constitutional protection. However, the IHC Chief Justice observed that animals undoubtedly have legal rights as “life is the premise of the existence of a right”. Therefore, under these provisions, today’s verdict ordered an end to the suffering of the animals at the Marghazar Zoo in a manner that preserves and protects their lives.

The verdict focused in particular the sufferings borne by Kaavan, a bull elephant that has remained in captivity at the Marghazar Zoo for the past 36 years. Kavan has never seen any other elephant since he had been separated from his herd since he was a calf. He was a year old when the Islamabad zoo acquired him from a Sri Lanka, and since then has never been let off the chain tied to his ankle in his restrictive and poorly facilitated holding pen. Animal welfare organizations such as the Pakistan Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) and other international groups have been advocating for Kaavan’s release for years, pointing out the elephant’s worrying behavior as evidence of his severely deteriorated mental health.

The IHC Chief Justice ordered Kaavan’s relocation to a sanctuary with a suitable habitat for a captive elephant within Pakistan or abroad within 30 days, and the relocation of the Marghazar Zoo’s other animals to similar sanctuaries within 60 days. Moreover, the order barred the zoo from keeping any other animals until it is able to acquire the necessary resources and facilities that can provide a healthy and protective environment to its animals.

Further still, the verdict also addressed the issue of stray dogs in the Islamabad Capital Territory area, ordering that the rights and lives of stray animals be ensured and that no inhumane methods be employed to address the social and health concerns street dogs may pose to citizens. Chief Justice IHC Athar Minallah also proposed that the Federal Government to advise provincial governments to include within school curricula Islamic values that teach kindness and respect toward non-human beings.