Peshawar gets its own zoo

Peshawar gets its own zoo
Given the mild injuries to their heads, which they sustained as they were moved in a small cage from their original home in Punjab, the lions of Lahore were not happy. They now found themselves in a cage elevated some 20 feet at the Peshawar zoo. The environment was new to them. And they were very new to the people of Peshawar.

“It is amazing for us to see lions in Peshawar. We never saw such scenes in the past, when people were suffering almost every day due to bomb blasts and lawlessness. There only limited opportunities of recreation for this militancy-hit people” says a visitor Noman Khan, who came along with his family to see the newly-arrived animals.

Sohail, another visitor to the Peshawar zoo is similarly impressed:“We had no zoo in Peshawar and the credit goes to the incumbent government for providing such an opportunity for the people of this city. Granted, it took time but hurdles in such projects are always there – given how hard it is to acquire the land for a start!”

With the release of funds, rapid progress in setting up a new zoo was witnessed, and a number of steps were taken for the beautification of both the zoo itself and the road leading towards it, near Peshawar University and Forest College.
The funds provided were much lesser than the originally designated 2,200 million rupees. 329 million rupees were spent until the project's completion date, up to December 2017

The authorities have since brought a couple of lions from the Lahore Zoo and significant numbers of others animals from the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa wildlife department. And this, we are told, is the initial stage. They are planning to bring in elephants, too, in a second phase.

There was speculation that the zoo project might turn out to be a hollow slogan of the PTI-led provincial government. However, the dream materialised when the government demarcated a 29-acre area of land despite some legal challenges and disputes with local influential people.

And so, to provide recreational facilities to the people of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the much awaited mega zoo project in Peshawar is now near completion, at a cost of some 329 million rupees.

The actual inauguration ceremony was held in 2016 but due to complications in the provision of land and funds, the project itself was delayed for six months and the work resumed once part of the land was freed for use.

The Project Director of the Peshawar zoo Muhammad Ali says that he took charge for this project in July 2016 and most of the work was completed last year, when he was handed over demarcated land – with the availability of funds. He says that he considered this project a challenge for himself – as the funds provided were much lesser than the originally designated amount of 2,200 million rupees. He specified that 329 million rupees were spent until the project’s completion date, up to December 2017.

Regarding the purchase of lions, Muhammad Ali says that the Lahore Zoo authorities promised to provide these animals to the Peshawar zoo at a reasonable price – making it unnecessary to approach South Africa for the same. A three-year-old couple is expected to reproduce in Peshawar Zoo. He adds:

“The life span of a lion is between 10 to 15 years and it is hard for a pair to produce children in old age. So we preferred to obtain a younger pair.”

To facilitate taking care of the new resident animals, the Wild Life department has provided an expert doctor. Moreover, the Lahore Zoo provided what assistance it could to help with the transition. Specialised cages have now been prepared for the animals.

The new residents, especially the lions, have a significant appetite. Mohammad Ali says that every day, the required amount of food is about 20 kilograms of beef for the pair. And when there is no beef, the guests have to be provided with an equivalent amount of chicken.

Ali further adds:

“The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Wild Life department has an abundance of animals like leopards, deer and Markhors – which will also be moved to the zoo during the second phase, as per their required habitat and temperature”

The 29 acres of land for the zoo are not just for the animals – some of it will house the staff of the zoo and there will also be parking facilities for visitors. The area which was earlier specified for car parking has been occupied by the new dual-carriage road, which leads towards the zoo from the main Jamrod road. And that is why a separate parking plaza would have to be constructed near the zoo. We are informed that no special employees were hired for the project and that employees of the Forest and Wild Life department are working at their usual salaries and allowances. Up until now there is no hostel or other accommodation for the employees, but we are told this would be addressed in the second phase of the project.

Earlier there had been talk that the highest authorities of KP had sought to staff the project primarily with their own favourites. This, in retrospect, appears to have been fairly baseless.

Now, despite the funds already spent, there is still some time before the zoo is opened to the public. In the meanwhile, visitors can only go into the site with special permission from the authorities. Peshawar’s zoo will mark a significant step in the authorities’ efforts to provide some measure of relaxation and recreation to the people of the city. It remains to be seen, however, if such facilities will also be provided to the rest of the province, in other cities.