By Sonya Rehman
Pakistan’s first-ever “Dolphin Show” opens to the public on the January 15. To be held at the Maritime Museum in Karachi, the organizers were due to host the event last year, but the plan had to be called off due to security concerns.
Featuring Stephen the beluga whale, Boris the dolphin and Memo the sea lion, the show is slated to run over two months, as reported by The Express Tribune. However, the event’s duration may be extended, depending on public response and ticket sales.
With foreign trainers flown in from Russia and Egypt to train the mammals to jump, sing, paint and perform a host of tricks to a local audience, the show is fast attracting media attention, public hype, and some outcry.
“Shows like this are very cruel,” Maheen Zia, the Co-Founder of PAWS (Pakistan Animal Welfare Society) (an NGO based in Karachi), told The Diplomat. “It gives the wrong message; to use such sensitive, intelligent animals, by pulling them out of their natural habitat and exploiting them like this for entertainment purposes.”
Given the country’s poorly maintained zoos and general lack of care and respect for animals in general, the much-touted Dolphin Show stands as a feather in Pakistan’s cap of gross animal abuse and neglect. The Lahore Zoo, for instance, is in an appalling state, with animals such as tigers and lions crammed into small cages. The animals are listless, rotting away in enclosed spaces. Little wonder then, the significant number of tigers that have perished over the years.
“Unfortunately the mindset in Pakistan is that if a human life is worth nothing in this country why should there be a hue and cry about animal rights here? Such regression and ignorance is rampant amongst so many educated people I know,” Zainab Chughtai, a Lahore-based lawyer, said to The Diplomat, adding, “There is no doubt that this show will be nothing but a display of savagery and torture on these creatures, passed on to mindless masses as entertainment.”
“We feel strongly that the planned dolphin show will neither be beneficial to the animals nor the general public. There are sufficient opportunities for public to see wild dolphins of the shore of Pakistan and indeed Karachi. They can be observed without too much effort or expense and the experience is much more rewarding than sitting around a concrete pool watching trained animals perform for their food,” noted a report released by WWF-Pakistan, condemning the show.
Last year, India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests banned the keeping of cetacean species (whales, dolphins, porpoises) in captivity for entertainment purposes. Not just India, but other countries such as Cyprus, Malaysia, Vietnam and Mexico have laws that strictly prohibit dolphin captivity.
According to a 2009 report by The Humane Society and the WSPA (the World Society for the Protection of Animals): “Wild-caught marine mammals gradually experience the atrophy of many of their natural behaviors and are cut off from the conditions that allow the expression of cultural traits such as specialized vocalizations and unique foraging techniques. Viewing captive animals gives the public a false picture of the animals’ natural lives. Worse yet, it desensitizes people to captivity’s inherent cruelties—for so many captive marine mammals, the world is a tiny enclosure, and life is devoid of naturalness.”
With just a few days to go until opening day for Karachi’s highly anticipated Dolphin Show, one hopes that animal rights organizations, animal rights activists, concerned citizens and the media at large will join hands to create awareness regarding the abuse that will be endured by the innocent “entertainers” – the stars of the show: Stephen, Boris and Memo.
But for that to happen, perhaps Pakistan needs to clean up its zoos first.
The Diplomat Magazine