EDITORIAL: In a heart-warming judgment Chief Justice of Islamabad High Court Athar Minallah has established that animals caged in zoos too have legal rights. One wishes the verdict could also apply to parrots caged in homes. It all started with stories of suffering of an elephant, Kaavan, who was being kept in isolation since the death of his female companion in 2012. In a 67-page judgment about the poor conditions in Islamabad's Marghzar Zoo, which houses 878 animal species, Justice Minallah devoted five pages to the plight of Kaavan saying “the pain and suffering of Kaavan must come to an end." The court ordered Chairman of the Board of Wildlife Management to make arrangements, preferably in consultation with and consent of the High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to relocate the elephant to a suitable sanctuary in that country within 30 days. The Board has also been instructed to relocate all the remaining animals to appropriate sanctuaries within 60 days from the date of receiving a certified copy of the judgment. Furthermore, said the court, no new animal should be kept in the zoo till a reputable international agency or organisation specializing in matters related to zoological gardens certifies that the facilities and resources are available to provide for the needs of each species of animals.
The judgment has been widely hailed by animal rights campaigners. Expressing her joy over Kaavan's freedom, famous American actress and singer, Cher, posted on her twitter account “THIS IS ONE OF THE GREATEST MOMENTS OF MY LIFE." The US-based Non-Human Rights Project also lauded the verdict, saying it will strengthen their legal suits for the release of two solitary elephants in New York and Connecticut. A British law firm, Advocates for Animals, termed it a milestone in establishing animal rights. Unfortunately, cruelty to animals is rampant everywhere. Few like to acknowledge that animals are conscious beings with their own ways of living. The elephant, for instance, lives in herds, taking care of one another as well as all young ones in good times and bad. As a matter of fact, all animal species have some sort of a plan for bettering their quality of life as seen when those in the wild move to another place where the food and water is aplenty, or when migratory birds fly to destinations thousands of miles away to avoid vagaries of weather and start breeding in favourable climates.
While on the subject, it is hoped the court will also take notice of cruelty to beasts of burden. A case in point is cart-pulling donkeys. In the past, under government relegations horse carts were not allowed to carry weight beyond a certain limit. But there seems to be no such regulations for donkey carts. They are commonly seen hauling huge loads. If that is not bad enough, instead of untying them during offloading, it is common for their owners to slide down the carts letting the donkeys hang in the air held up by bridles. This must be stopped. Donkeys and other domesticated animals also deserve to have a life that is worth living.