Pakistan’s ‘Lion King’ rears 11 big cats at Peshawar home

Pictured here is Gul's African lion, Maily. (AN Photo by Saba Rehman)
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Updated 10 December 2019

Pakistan’s ‘Lion King’ rears 11 big cats at Peshawar home

  • Arab Gul says there is a separate place to house each one of his cherished pets
  • They include two white lions which are a rare breed in the world

Peshawar: There’s a Mufasa and a Simba, but it’s 50-year-old Arab Gul who is the undisputed ‘lion king’ of the Muslim Town in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Both Mufasa and Simba are unique because they are a rare breed of white lions. Only a few are found in Lahore, Pakistan, but except for Gul, there's no one else who keeps them at home. (AN Photo by Saba Rehman)

With three lions currently in Islamabad for training, Gul has a total of 11 big cats under his care.

Arab Gul, who said he grew fond of lions from a very early age, is seen here interacting with his pets during a routine morning visit at his home in Peshawar on Monday. (AN Photo by Saba Rehman)

It’s a love, he says, which he’s nurtured from childhood.

“I started rearing them four years ago with two white lions who were imported from Sri Lanka. White lions are a rare breed in the world. In Pakistan, two of them – Mufasa (male) and Simba (female) – are with me. A dealer imported them from Sri Lanka. Later, I bought them from him,” he said.

The two white lions seen here, Mufasa and Simba, were imported from Sri Lanka, and have three cubs. (AN Photo by Saba Rehman)

White lions are a rare breed in Pakistan, too, with only a few in Lahore. However, unlike Gul, no one keeps them at home.

That, however, doesn’t seem to bother residents of his locality who treat Gul like a celebrity for keeping unique pets at home.

Located along Dilazak road on the outskirts of Peshawar, his residence in Muslim Town is spread over an area of 0.375 acres and houses a separate place for each of the lions.

Feeding his “family members,” however, is no piece of cake, Gul says.

Enhaj Khan is one of the caretakers of the lions. (AN Photo by Saba Rehman)

“In one week, we give them beef for four days and chicken for two, with a one day break. Each lion consumes about six kgs of beef and 10 kgs of chicken, in addition to one liter of milk on a daily basis,” he said.

After their scheduled meals, the lions are unchained for two hours every day for a walk in the residential lawns.

EnHajj Khan, one of Gul’s employees, is responsible for the lions’ care and said he’s never been afraid of taking care of the “king of the jungle.”

At Arab Gul’s home in Peshawar, there is a separate place for every lion which is secured from outside. (AN Photo by Saba Rehman)

“I am working here from the past four years. I haven’t received any training but take care of them on my own,” Khan, 60, said, adding that’s it wonderful to see people visiting the house to see the lions for free.

Gul says he’s unperturbed by the flow of visitors who usually visit at noon.

“CCTV cameras ensure the animals’ security and I keep watch on my phones,” he said.

Virus school closure turns aspiring financier into Islamabad’s favorite pet portraitist

Updated 08 August 2020

Virus school closure turns aspiring financier into Islamabad’s favorite pet portraitist

  • In front of a veterinary clinic in Islamabad’s F7 sector, a 19-year-old artist set up a pet portrait studio
  • Malik began painting at a young age, but animals entered his canvas only last year, when his beloved cat went missing

ISLAMABAD: With a science certificate in his pocket, Arbaz Malik was ready for college when the coronavirus struck and shut the door of his dream school. Putting the 19-year-old’s education on hold, the pandemic has, however, opened to him a strikingly different career path: pet portraiture.

In front of a veterinary clinic at a small market in Islamabad’s F7 sector, Malik set up a tiny pop-up studio which draws attention with a rainbow sign “Paint Your Loving Pet” and furry customers waiting for their turn to be captured in paint.

 A German Shepherd puppy is sitting still while Arbaz Malik is painting its portrait in Maqbool Market in F7 Islamabad on Aug. 5, 2020. (AN/Sib Kaifee)

“I was very excited for school to begin, I am aiming to get a Bachelor of Business Management (BBM) degree,” he said. But as the pandemic made everything become uncertain, the current job as a pet portraitist gives him “a positive thing to look forward to every day.”

Malik’s engagement in the arts began at a young age, but until recently he was trying to master landscape and cityscape painting. Animals entered his canvas only last year, when his beloved cat Shpanty went missing.

Heartbroken, unable to find Shpanty, Malik eventually painted her portrait from a photograph. Seeing the result, his brother, Arsalan, advised him to think about turning talent into a career.

Arbaz Malik's cat Shpanty went missing in 2019. Her portrait, left, was Malik's first step into the pet portraiture business. (Photo courtesy: Arbaz Malik)

“My brother suggested that I come here to the same place we would bring our cat, and see if pet parents going in and out of the clinic might be interested in getting their pets painted,” Malik told Arab News while painting a German Shephard pup patiently sitting next to his easel.

“Three months ago, with the support of the clinic, I began my business.”

Dog, cat, bird, and even horse owners have since become Malik’s faithful and broad customer base. His paintings have already traveled across the world into homes in Canada and France with repeat customers commissioning him to paint pet portraits which they carry abroad as gifts for relatives and friends.

When his college reopens, Malik wants to attend classes full time, but says he will not give up art.

“I will always do both, even after my studies are complete,” he said, “I love painting too much.”

He also loves animals, which is what he and his customers have in common.

“Pets are so important, you love them, they are beautiful and innocent, and they really are your best friend,” Malik said, “They even help you fight off depression, because their support and love are unconditional.”