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Tuesday Mar 31 2020

Karachi’s shuttered Empress Market echoes of wailing animals amid lockdown

Karachi’s shuttered Empress Market echoes of wailing animals amid lockdown / Photo: Sitwat Khawar

With the coronavirus spreading across the country and bringing life to a standstill in Pakistan’s once-bustling metropolis, howls and cries for help have been echoing inside locked pet stores.

Coming to the rescue of the abandoned animals at Karachi’s Empress Market was Ayesha Chundrigar and her ACF Animal Rescue team.

Upon special orders issued by the Sindh government, the pet shops at the market were opened for the team behind Pakistan’s largest animal shelter who led the animals to safety.

Chundrigar told the current situation and how some animals are still stuck in the area while the ACF team is being denied access to them as they cry for help.

“At present, about 70% of the animals in the shops are dead and the other 30% are in a bad state. The shopkeepers still are not giving us many that require help,” she said.

“Many have been hidden away that we haven’t gained access to because the day after we first visited suddenly half the animals had disappeared. Dead animal carcasses were strewn outside the market,” she added.

Chundrigar and her team of vets and volunteers came to the aid of hundreds of frail cats and dogs ensnared in crammed cages, dehydrated and starving with no air or light reaching them.

“About 60 animals were taken out from the shops, the ones that were barely conscious and taken to shelters,” Chundrigar said.

The rescue operation was conducted by the team in the city’s already risky conditions with the number of coronavirus cases mounting, and a lockdown imposed that directs limited activity within the metropolis to contain the spread of the infectious disease.

Chundrigar and the ACF staff laid stress on the precautionary measures getting issued by health authorities by maintaining social distancing and providing protective gear to the volunteers and staff.

"Social distancing is something we were very cautious of and the number of people out on the road. So we had just a handful of volunteers divided into different areas, covered in protective gear who were speedily trying to get the work done as quickly as we could and bring those animals to safety,” Chundrigar said during the interview.

In a social media post earlier, the ACF had urged the public to keep in mind the sufferings of animals in catastrophic times such as these.

“The COVID-19 outbreak only began because of severe cruelty towards animals,” the Instagram post read.

“You shouldn’t have to be an animal lover to care about the suffering of others. That should be indoctrinated into our culture as a norm of being a decent human being.”

Meanwhile, Deputy Commissioner South Karachi, Irshad Sodhar said that he had managed to check all the birds and pets shops in the district.

"Govt Vets with Volunteer vets and reps of Innocent Pet Shelter, @ACFAnimalRescue , Ma’am Meher & Ma’am Yasmeen covered all the shops," Sodhar said.