A team of international veterinarians, armed with specially designed dental drills, began operating on a pair of elephants “in unbelievable pain” at a colonial-era zoo in Pakistan on Wednesday.
Austria-based organization Four Paws was asked by the Sindh High Court to step in and treat the animals after activists reported their miserable condition.
Sixteen-year-old Madhu Bala – named after a Bollywood actress – underwent surgery for an infection on a broken tusk after being given a sensitive anesthetic because the zoo in the southern city of Karachi lacks the facilities and space to administer general anesthesia.
“She’s in the worst pain,” Four Paws vet Frank Gortiz told AFP.
“There’s an abscess on the right side. The root of their tusk is in their skull and the distance to their eyes is very close.”
She had her eyes covered and was tied with thick rope and supported with steel bars to prevent her from falling during standing sedation, which required specially adapted equipment.
“We have been developing tools for a very long time to be able to clean the wound,” said veterinarian Marina Ivanova.
During the hours-long operation, Madhu Bala occasionally snorted as the team of vets in blood-stained clothes pushed to remove the remains of the broken tusk.
Noor Jehan – named after the Mughal Emperor Jahangir’s wife – is suffering from a similar infection with broken tusks and will undergo surgery later in the week.
Two elephants at another nearby zoo in the port city are also being treated for abscesses.
Pakistani zoos are repeatedly criticized for disregarding animal welfare.
In April 2020, a court ordered the only zoo in the country’s capital, Islamabad, to be closed after poor facilities and animal abuse were revealed.
The facility had drawn international condemnation for treating an Asian elephant named Kaavan, who was later airlifted to retirement in Cambodia in a project led by US pop star and actor Cher and implemented by Four Paws.
Earlier this month, a zoo in the eastern city of Lahore canceled plans to auction 12 lions after overbreeding to private individuals, saying it would create new enclosures for the big cats instead.
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