Despite a long legal battle, years of campaigning, and foreign intervention by an animal rights organization, the suffering of Noor Jehan, a 17-year-old African elephant at the Karachi Zoo, took a turn for the worse as she went into a pond inside her enclosure and got stuck over there.
The incident took place only a few days after Noor Jehan underwent a treatment for her partially paralyzed hind legs, making a team of veterinarians from Four Paws, a Vienna-based global animal welfare organization, work tirelessly alongside the local zoo staff while trying to save the life of the ailing elephant on Thursday night.
The elephant, who has been experiencing a number of health issues including arthritis, is still unable to stand up due to the weakness and trauma after the incident.
Named after an iconic Pakistani singer, Noor Jehan was brought to Pakistan in 2009 with three other elephants after they were caught in Tanzania by an animal trader. She was sent to the Karachi Zoo with her friend, Madhubala, while the other two elephants, Malaika and Sonu, were shifted to the Karachi Safari Park.
Last week, the Four Paws team, led by Egyptian veterinarian Dr. Amir Khalil, visited the animal sanctuary in Karachi to conduct tests and ultrasounds on Noor Jehan after a video of her limping and struggling to stand went viral on social media. The team flew back after handing the zoo staff a treatment, diet, and therapy plan for the elephant.
“We were contacted [after she went into the pond] and [we] guided them to bring a crane,” Khalil told Arab News on Friday morning. “I was in a live video conference until now with Noor Jehan.”
Mystery surrounds how the elephant, who was already struggling to stand, ended up in the pond where she remained stuck for hours and endured trauma. The director of Karachi Zoo, Kunwar Ayub, said the elephant did not slip into the pool but rather went there to play with water.
“The perception that Noor Jehan fell into the [pond] is incorrect,” he said while pointing out that she went in the water herself.
“The team sought advice from Four Paws when the elephant went [to] the water, and they recommended letting her stay there,” he continued. “However, when Noor Jehan did not move away from the pond, the zoo staff had to intervene to rescue her.”
Ayub told Arab News that an hour-long struggle by the zoo staff to get her out of the pond left the animal traumatized.
“She experienced trauma during the hour-long attempt to bring her out of the pond, which, combined with her weakened state and caused her to collapse. Eventually, with the assistance of a crane, she was rescued,” the official said.
According to a statement by Four Paws, the animal welfare organization was called for “urgent help” and was informed that Noor Jehan had been lying in the pool in her enclosure since morning and could not get out by herself.
“Based on this information, the Four Paws expert team, which examined Noor Jehan one week ago, immediately asked to have a video call with the local team, consisting of our local veterinarians, the zoo director, and volunteers,” the statement read.
It added that the local team, under the support and supervision of Four Paws, succeeded in getting the elephant out of the pool with a crane, lifting her with ropes and belts, and placing her on a sand pile next to a tree.
“She was very exhausted and weak after several hours, and the situation was very critical for Noor Jehan. The vets provided emergency medical treatment, including infusions, and food, like sugarcane juice, to give her some energy,” the statement said.
According to Four Paws, as of Friday, Noor Jehan was still lying on the sand pile next to the tree, while she and the on-site zoo team were both very exhausted. The team worked very hard until late at night to position her correctly, constantly monitored her, and gave her lots of infusions under the supervision of Four Paws.
“Once she gets a bit more rest, the on-site team will try to lift her again,” the statement continued. “The Four Paws team is currently working with the local team via video calls about possible solutions to save her. We are doing our best to help her and hope that she will recover soon.”
In November 2021, Four Paws’ experts said Noor Jehan had a severe tusk infection and needed immediate surgery as they arrived in Pakistan after the Sindh High Court granted them permission to inspect the health of all four African elephants in Karachi, including Noor Jehan.
The developments came more than two years after Kaavan, dubbed as the “world’s loneliest elephant,” was released from a ramshackle zoo in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. Animal rights activists had long campaigned against the plight of the 35-year-old elephant, who had lived alone since the death of his mate in 2012.
Kaavan was transferred to Cambodia in late 2020 in a blaze of publicity after his plight caught the attention of US superstar Cher, who helped raise funds for the jumbo relocation.