Momin Masood teaches English at the Lahore Grammar School and is a nature conservation and animal rights enthusiast.

“Concern for animals has been raised in Pakistan for a very long time but these voices come from a barely noticeable minority and, sadly, have fallen on deaf ears. They fade away as soon as they are vocalized.” 

© Mauri Rautkari / WWF

Recently, I met an old family friend after several years. She is one of the few people I know who are just as passionate about animal welfare as I am. That’s why she decided to become a veterinary doctor. A detailed conversation on the plight of animals in Pakistan brought us to the conclusion: at large, animals will never be cared for in this country. I was perhaps not as hopeless as she was but I understood her concern. Campaigners have rallied for animal rights in Pakistan for a very long time but their voices come from a barely noticeable minority and, sadly, have fallen on deaf ears. They do not even evoke a response and fade away as soon as they are vocalized. Stray dogs have been targeted and murdered. Donkeys have been beaten up as part of political protests. Street animals are pelted, tied up and their tails yanked for amusement.

Cart-driving animals are mercilessly beaten and overused in the crippling summer heat. Zoos fail to keep their animals in hygienic and suitable environments. It is no surprise that animals were left to die in pet shops during the recent lockdown in the country. The list of acts showcasing animal cruelty is endless.

This is a country that takes direction from religion for every matter, and showing love towards animals is part of our faith. Then why is it that people fail to develop a caring relationship with animals? Or, more so, why do we fail to successfully rally for the rights of animals? A common, yet flawed, argument made against a pro-animal stance is, “Who cares about animal rights in Pakistan when human rights are not guaranteed?” What a majority in Pakistan fails to understand is that animal rights and human rights are not mutually exclusive.

© Mauri Rautkari / WWF

We should collectively work towards improving animal welfare standards to ensure that animals are treated with respect and are given credence as they are an equal part of our ecosystem. There is a dire need to have legislation and standards in place, the ratification and implementation of these rules and laws are equally important.

It is imperative for us to expand the experience of the public with animals to engender empathy and an affinity towards them. This can be done by improving zoos, having well managed nature reserves and wildlife sanctuaries to protect indigenous wildlife species that also provide nature tourism opportunities to the people. When all is said is done, though, the matter comes down to funding and the availability of resources. With a number of issues that directly affect humans, all efforts focus on protecting them rather than any other species. Until then, any actions taken to protect animals will have to be those taken on an individual level, out of the goodness of a person’s heart. One can hope that this in itself will be enough to keep the animal population in Pakistan alive and healthy.

© Tom Vierus / WWF-UK