The death of a three-year-old giraffe under mysterious circumstances in Peshawar zoo marks the third death of an African animal in only this last month. These tragic occurrences, of animals dropping dead or developing severe physical and psychological disorders, are a clear reflection of the gruesome conditions that they are kept under in Pakistan’s zoos. Several cases of animal cruelty have gained attention in the last few years, the most prominent one being that of Kaavan, the elephant who was kept captive in appallingly horrendous living conditions to the point that the elephant developed a psychological disorder. Despite the protests and the hashtags and fleeting international attention that animal cruelty cases receive, very little has changed on ground. Pakistan’s zoos still function in the same sordid conditions, with animals being brought in from abroad to completely unsuitable habitats, and left to languish neglected, abused and isolated.

The debate for whether zoos are ethical is a worldwide one, mostly divided between animal rights activists who argue for the abolition of zoos, and those who make the distinction between good zoos and bad zoos. It can be said with near certainty, considering the high mortality rate of its residents, that Pakistan’s zoos would qualify as “bad zoos”.

Animals are living beings too, who also experience feelings of pain, abandonment, loneliness and depression. If not legal, it is at least our moral duty to uphold the legal rights of these non-human animals, which include rights to respect and dignity. This Islamabad High Court decision in the Kavaan case made clear the need for new legislation on zoos, which must include strict standards for maintenance and regulation to ensure the legal rights of animals are being upheld. And if some authorities argue that these standards are difficult to enforce in an economy like Pakistan’s, then perhaps there is a viable argument for the abolishment of zoos. If our objective behind zoos is to educate the masses about animals, then keeping abused animals in humiliating conditions sends the wrong message. Perhaps it would be better to altogether bid farewell to these relics of less enlightened times.