Last year, a video of Karachi zoo’s sole bear, 20-year-old Rano started doing rounds on social media. The animal was seen panting, heaving, and roaming in circles of the Victorian “grotto” pit she was the only resident of.
The Syrian bear has been moved to a new enclosure, reportedly five times the size of the previous one on orders of the Sindh High Court. Her “distressed” roaming hasn’t stopped, neither has the look of despair and longing gone from her eyes.
Rano’s new enclosure is adjacent to the old one. The new cage said to be 2,100 square feet wide, is ground-level with earth under her feet. There’s a pond inside that is used by the animal for bathing and drinking. Three tree trunks have been horizontally placed inside the cage along with a rocky corner which the bear often climbs.
If you’re visiting the zoo for the first time, you will find Rano like any other animal locked up. But if you’ve visited her previous enclosure, you’d notice that although the heaving and panting have gone, the bear can still be seen walking from one end of the enclosure to the other.
According to the zoo administration, the bear has been doing fine. “People visit the zoo, see the animal, and assume they are not doing well,” Deputy Director Abida Raees told SAMAA Digital. “We are the ones looking after the bear and are constantly updated about her health.”
She said that Rano’s new cage was 500 times bigger than the old one with a bigger pool, sand, and more shade. The bear is doing perfectly fine, Raees persisted.
Rano’s caretaker Ramu said that she was eating just fine. The bear is fed once a day. Her diet comprises fruits, bread, and dry fruits. “A vet monitors her health thrice a day and no change has been seen in her behavior.”
New cage, same problems
Despite all the natural elements the new enclosure brings, there’s one thing that hasn’t changed: Rano’s robotic walk.
Wildlife expert Zohare Ali Shariff explains that this is because although the zoo management has enriched the bear environmentally, a huge gap remains when it comes to behavourial enrichment.
“Yes, Rano’s space has been substantially increased but you need to remember that a bear walks approximately 10 to 12 kilometers every day.”
A Syrian brown bear requires vegetation, forest ground, and undulating terrain. These are the things that will create stimulation for the animal. “You need to keep Rano entertained otherwise she will get bored in a day and become victim to distress and depression,” Shariff told SAMAA Digital.
The reason behind her one-pattern walking is boredom. She has nothing to do in the confined enclosure. If this prolongs, the bear can start hitting herself. “Zookeepers should be ideally trained to identify this behaviour immediately but that doesn’t happen here.”
Shariff stressed the need for the bear keeper to show compassion. They need to come up with ideas to keep her occupied. And it won’t take much because bears are traditionally curious animals.
He pointed out simple ways to do this: the simplest one is to place the tree trunks in her enclosure vertically and cover them with honey. “You will see Rano engaged within minutes. With the strong sense of smell, she will immediately sniff the honey and try to climb the trunk to lick it off.” It will take the zookeeper 30 minutes to do this but will keep the animal occupied for hours.
The expert debunked the need to bring in a companion for Rano. “Bears are loners by nature. They are used to living alone.”
If the zoo brings in a new bear, it will just increase their work. For one, they need to ensure the bear is of the same species. They will have to ensure the two animals are compatible and will probably have to keep them in separate enclosures with minimum contact, gauging how they react around each other.
The bear can also not be sent to Deosai. “Rano has stayed in captivity all her life. How do you expect her to go out in the wild and fight wolves and other wild animals? She won’t last a day there,” Shariff said. For now, it’s best to improve the living conditions of the place she is in, he added.
Rano’s petition on hold
Last year, a total of 38 people signed a petition filed in the Sindh High Court by Barrister Mohsin Shahwani against keeping Rano at the Karachi zoo.
The petitioners said that Rano is being kept in a very small enclosure, away from her family. “The bear is not fed on time, neither are its other needs looked out for,” Shahwani said.
The petitioner demanded that the bear be sent back to Skardu where its other family members are or to a wildlife sanctuary, adding that she is not native to Karachi and the city’s climate is not suitable for it.
“The condition of the Karachi Zoo is very bad and the place has become hazardous for animals living there,” Shahwani said, pointing out that the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation doesn’t have the funds or skilled workers to take care of animals.
In the next hearing of the case on October 5, the court instructed the KMC to install an air cooler or air conditioner inside Rano’s enclosure at the zoo within 48 hours.
On December 23, Sindh High Court ordered Rano’s relocation to another cage 500 times bigger. The orders were directed to Karachi zoo’s senior director and KMC. The instructions were passed on an interim basis until a final decision is taken.
Shahwani told SAMAA Digital that the petition has been kept on hold and the court will resume hearing in mid-August. Our final prayer is a rehabilitation and sanctuary for Rano, he added.