'Love is tough': Affluent Pakistanis increasingly keep, then abandon, exotic pet lions

(L-R) The image shows Pakistani lion enthusiasts Jaun Shah, Moeed Hassan Khan and Syed Imdad Haider pose for a picture with a lion. (Photo courtesy: social media accounts of the lion enthusiasts)
Short Url
Updated 16 July 2022

'Love is tough': Affluent Pakistanis increasingly keep, then abandon, exotic pet lions

  • Owners would previously gift lions to Lahore Zoo but authorities now refusing to take in more due to overcrowding
  • Lion cubs could fetch more than $2,500 a few years ago, now former lion owners say hard to get one fourth of that amount

LAHORE: When Jaun Shah bought Gabbar in 2021, he was a cute, one-month-old African lion cub who loved to play and cuddle with his new companion.

But as the animal grew older and bigger, Shah came face to face with a painful reality: raising a lion was no easy task.

Gabbar, whom Shah had named after an iconic Bollywood villain, had begun to play the part. At one point, he almost chewed off his owner’s shoulder during playtime and Shah and his helpers increasingly became afraid to go near him or into his cage.

Fourteen months after Shah had bought Gabbar for around $4,000, he gave up on trying to raise him and sold the lion off to a local housing society zoo.

“Love is tough, especially when it comes to a full-grown African lion,” Shah told Arab News. “I was wary of the violent tendencies these sublime brutes can develop but I thought we were doing just fine.”

“You can keep a cub until it’s seven eight months old but after that it just grows bigger with every passing day and a 200kg beast is not for any ordinary person to handle.”




This undated photo former lion owner Jaun Shah posing with a lion. (Jaun Shah)

He added wistfully: “Gabbar’s intentions weren’t deadly, he was just excited, mostly.”

Shah is one of several affluent Lahore residents Arab News interviewed, who had bought lions as pets in recent years and then abandoned them after being unable to provide the special care they require and realizing that raising them was both hard and dangerous. Many sold the animals to other private owners, while some approached small housing society zoos.

Unfortunately, the housing society that bought Gabbar was also now looking to rehome him — without much luck, Shah said.

“OUT OF SPACE”

In the past, owners were able to gift their pet lions to the Lahore Zoo after they got tired of them but zoo authorities are now refusing to take in more animals on account of overcrowding.

Kiran Saleem, a deputy director at the Lahore Zoo, said there was no space at the establishment to accommodate more lions.

“We are out of space, we cannot even accommodate the ones rescued by the wildlife department from illegal possession or which were kept in deplorable conditions,” she told Arab News. “In fact, some cages dedicated to tigers and panthers are also occupied by lions at the Lahore Zoo.”

The situation became especially hard to manage after the Lahore Zoo received 10 tigers and eight lions as a gift from the UAE government in 2019, which Saleem said were sent to different zoos across Punjab.

The Lahore Zoo currently houses 26 lions while the city’s Safari Park has 40. The capacity at both facilities is 18 and 34, respectively. The number of surplus lions at 21 parks and zoos across Punjab is more than 20, Saleem said.

An auction scheduled for March 15 to sell surplus lions at these facilities never took place due to lack of interest from buyers, even though the opening bid was kept at Rs 150,000 — much lower than the market price of an adult lion.

Until a few years ago, a lion cub could fetch more than half a million rupees or $2,500. Now, it was hard to get even a quarter of that, previous lion owners said.

Badar Munir, chairman of the Taskforce on Forests and Wildlife Punjab, said: “We have kept the opening bid low knowing that there aren’t many people who would be interested in buying while the market is already high on supply.”

A second auction would be held soon, he said, but the date had not yet been set.

Meanwhile, lion owners who want to give up their animals are struggling to find takers, particularly as few want a pet that is so expensive to feed and house.

“It’s an expensive pet to keep simply,” Syed Imdad Shah, a businessman who has been breeding lions for the past several years, told Arab News. “It consumes 4-5kg meat a day and you have to hire a vet full time.”




The picture posted on May 16, 2021 shows Syed Imdad Shah (second left) posing with a lion in Lahore, Pakistan. (Syed Imdad Haider/Facebook)

A lion owner also needs to spend generously on vitamins and medicines for the pet and appoint a caretaker. If you want to keep a lion as a pet, the businessman said, you should be willing to spend up to $2,500 a month. 

Dr. Rizwan Khan, a veterinary doctor hired by several lion keepers in Lahore, said a lack of behavioral therapy for lions in Pakistan was another reason owners were unable to handle them and often gave them up.

“Lions and tigers go through violent mood swings because of many reasons, including separation anxiety,” the vet told Arab News. “They may seem fearless but they also go through fears and phobias. Some common ones are thunderstorms, crowds, veterinarian visits, car rides and loud noises, and generalized anxiety, typically due to a lack of socialization.”

“TRADE IN BODY PARTS”

Why then do some people still want to keep lions as pets?

“Most of them are those who want to portray a macho image for themselves, flaunt their wealth, while there are some who have kept lions just because it is the election symbol of a political party they support,” Syed, the businessman, said, referring indirectly to the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

Some even consider the fat of a lion an aphrodisiac, he added, laughing.

Animal rights advocate Uzma Khan, who works for the World Wildlife Fund, said lions in Pakistan were also coveted due to illegal trade in body parts.

A 2016 WWF report titled ‘An Assessment of the Scale of Illegal Wildlife Trade in Pakistan’ says the Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces are top markets for the sale of lions in the country.

The report said the wholesale price of an African lion’s hide was Rs70,000 ($350), while pendants and lockets carved out of lion teeth and claws could fetch thousands of dollars. Hakeems, or local physicians, also used lion fat in medicines meant to relieve muscular and joint pains.

Once you bring the animals into the country, there is no check and balance on their sale, WWF’s Khan said. A set of guidelines issued in 2011 by the National Council for Conservation of Wildlife, the closest to a regulatory regime in Pakistan, had no legal value, she added.

“So where do all these body parts come from? Obviously from dead animals but no one has data on lions who died and how?” she told Arab News. “Autopsies are performed on animals which die at zoos or parks but none are done when it comes to individuals or companies [who own lions].”

Khan lamented the lack of rescue centers for abandoned lions and the fact that authorities were not controlling the growing lion numbers through contraceptives and neutering.

“Breeding big cats is not rocket science. They breed easily, and within a couple of years, their numbers have increased to the extent that we cannot help the unwanted ones,” the animal rights activist said.

She says she had advised authorities on numerous occasions to put lions at zoos on contraceptives or neuter them.

“These methods are used worldwide to control over-population in captivity. I don’t know why we can’t do it here,” she said.

“FEEL BAD FOR MY ANIMAL”

For now, lion enthusiasts warn that often what is mistaken for violent tendencies, and which lead owners to give them up, are just the lions being playful.

“It’s not for the faint hearted to keep lions as pets,” enthusiast Usman Khan said. “When lions are being playful, they jump on you, cuddle with you, but in their own way. Most people get terrified by this playfulness but you have to be lion-hearted yourself to keep a lion, otherwise please don’t.”




The photo posted on April 5, 2020 show Usman Khan holding a cub in Pakistan. (usmanbullet_/instagram)

Khan advised lion keepers not to be afraid when a playful lion bit or hugged them “because if you do try to pull away it will further clench and you will get hurt.”

“Just let it be, it will loosen up the bite,” he said. “Better still, put something bitter on your arms before playing with it. They’re repelled by the taste and won’t probably try to bite you again, even during play.”

But Shah, the past owner of Gabbar, said he still has a hard time getting over his fears. Though he still visits his former pet at his new home at the housing society, he now only watches from a distance.

“It still gets excited to see me but I cannot cuddle it, nor can I stay there for long,” he said. “I feel bad for my animal.”


England pile up mammoth 657 against Pakistan in first Test

Updated 02 December 2022

England pile up mammoth 657 against Pakistan in first Test

  • England became the first team to score 500 runs on the opening day of a Test match
  • Leg-spinner Zahid Mahmood conceded 235 for his four wickets, the most by a bowler on a Test debut

RAWALPINDI: England piled up a mammoth 657 runs before being all out Friday on the second day of the first Test against Pakistan in Rawalpindi.
Resuming at 506-4, the tourists added 151 runs in 125 minutes, with Harry Brook taking his overnight score of 101 to 153 -- one of four centurions in the innings.
Skipper Ben Stokes (41), debutant Liam Livingstone (nine), and Brook -- were all dismissed by pacer Naseem Shah, who finished with 3-140.
Leg-spinner Zahid Mahmood conceded 235 for his four wickets -- the most by a bowler on a Test debut.
On Thursday England became the first team to score 500 runs on the opening day of a Test match, bettering Australia's 112-year-old record of 494-6 against South Africa in Sydney.
Zak Crawley (122), Ollie Pope (108), and Ben Duckett (107) were the other centurions in the innings.
The three-match Test series is England's first in Pakistan for 17 years.


Pakistan led efforts for climate ‘loss and damage’ fund, now world should deliver — PM

Updated 02 December 2022

Pakistan led efforts for climate ‘loss and damage’ fund, now world should deliver — PM

  • Group of 134 states led by flood-battered Pakistan presented united front at UN summit
  • Details on how fund will operate, where it will source money will be worked out by a committee

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has said Pakistan had led the effort at last month’s UN climate summit to get a deal approved for funding arrangements for climate change impacts suffered by vulnerable countries, but now the world needed to “deliver” on the landmark development.

Two-week talks in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh ended last month with a deal to establish a ‘loss and damage’ fund to help vulnerable countries pay their rising costs of climate damage. The details on how the fund will operate and how it will source money will be worked out by a committee in the coming year.

A group of 134 African, Asian and Latin American states and small island nations, led by flood-battered Pakistan, presented a united front to push through the controversial fund.

“Pakistan ably led the Global South in crafting a consensus towards climate justice. The journey has only begun,” Sharif said on Twitter.

“The world needed to continue with a win-win approach to deliver on the landmark development. Transitional Committee has its plate full with time running out fast. We have to build on the hope by resetting our priorities for a bright future.”

While climate activists have broadly welcomed the new fund, they are cautious that many aspects of its governance are still to be resolved, and it is unclear how much money it will be able to raise and from where.

The United States, European governments and other industrialised countries had swung their weight behind the fund after years of resistance, their opposition rooted in fears of being held financially liable for the impacts of their historically high greenhouse gas emissions.

But that line became tougher to hold amid the "growing gravity, scope and frequency in all regions of loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change," as the final "Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan" noted.

Climate "loss and damage" includes not just harm to people, their homes and infrastructure from disasters such as floods, droughts and storms but also forced displacement from slower impacts such as sea level rise, as well as losses of cultural heritage and community livelihoods, it added.

The new fund will differ from other UN-backed climate funds because it will gather money from a far wider range of sources, including development banks and innovative sources of finance such as taxes on fossil fuels or airlines.

Traditional donor governments, including European Union (EU) members and the United States, insisted on this as a condition for supporting the fund.

They faced push-back from China and other emerging economies, so the thorny issue of who exactly will pay into the fund was put off to be settled later.

The United States and other nations have argued that China, as the world's biggest climate polluter since 2006, should have a role in contributing to the fund, which Beijing has rejected.


In Pakistan’s southwest, two Pashtun women footballers score against taboos

Updated 02 December 2022

In Pakistan’s southwest, two Pashtun women footballers score against taboos

  • Rozi Bakht and Masnoora Kakar are the first female footballers in Balochistan from ethnic Pashtun families
  • The young sports women want to serve as an inspiration for other girls from their impoverished towns

QUETTA: Two women footballers in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province are shooting for greater inclusion for women from their ethnic Pashtun community, hoping that they can become an example for other girls from their impoverished hometowns who want to pursue sports.

Meet Rozi Bakht, 23, and Mansoora Kakar, 22, who are the only women footballers in Balochistan who hail from the conservative ethnic group, the Pashtuns.

“In my village, there are meager educational facilities for girls, so how can a girl even think about playing football or any other sport?” Bakht, who hails from the remote town of Tuba Kakari in Balochistan’s backward Pishin district told Arab News, outlining her battles against both poverty and the conservative values of her community.

This undated file photo shows Pakistani woman footballer Mansoora Kakar in action. (AN photo)

But the hurdles did not dampen Bakht’s enthusiasm and passion for the sport and she began to regularly attend practice sessions at the Balochistan Women’s Football Academy (BWFA).

For the last three years, she has been the captain of her team, whose coach is a man.

“It was very challenging for me to seek permission from my parents but despite negative criticism, including attacks on my character, my father allowed me to play because he trusted me,” Bakht said during a practice session with more than a dozen other girls at a small futsal ground in Quetta on a chilly evening last week.

Bakht is the only woman from her district who plays football at the provincial level, and hopes to be a source of encouragement for other girls in her village who have a passion for sports.

Just like Bakht, Kakar, another Pashtun girl who belongs to Kuchlak, a town on the outskirts of  Quetta, is also the first women footballer from her home district. She joined the Balochistan Women’s Football Academy two years ago.

Dressed in a black tracksuit that she paired with a red head scarf, Kakar cheered along with her teammates after scoring a goal during a practice match last Saturday. Now a forward player in the team, she too spoke about the hardships she had to face when she initially expressed her desire to join sports.

“I had a passion for football since my childhood, I used to play in my home but when I enrolled myself in college, I started playing there,” Kakar told Arab News. “But when I came to know that there is a football club [for females], I came here. Now it's been two years that I am in this team.”

“When I asked for permission to play football, my family refused because it was very difficult for me to commute for practices as the ground was 30km away from my home,” Kakar added.

“I come for my regular practice matches via a local bus which is the only affordable source of transportation for me because my father and brothers have their own work and can’t provide me pick and drop services.”

This undated file photo shows footballers Rozi Bakht, second left, and Mansoora Kakar, left, during a practice session in Quetta, Pakistan. (AN photo)

Many girls in Kuchlak, Kakar said, had a passion for sports, particularly football, but couldn’t play due to familial and cultural barriers.

But Muhammad Yasir Khan, 22, the head coach at the women's academy, hoped more girls would join the football club.

“The presence of sportswomen from the Pashtun belt,” he said, “is very limited which needs to be increased.”


UAE remains largest relief assistance provider to flood-affected people in Pakistan — envoy

Updated 02 December 2022

UAE remains largest relief assistance provider to flood-affected people in Pakistan — envoy

  • The embassy of the Arab state organized a colorful ceremony to celebrate its 51st National Day
  • The ceremony was also attended by senior Pakistani ministers, politicians and veteran diplomats

ISLAMABAD: The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been the largest provider of humanitarian assistance to Pakistan’s flood-affected families, said its envoy on Thursday while addressing a ceremony in the federal capital to celebrate the 51st National Day of his country.
The event was organized by the UAE embassy to highlight the culture of the Arab state by setting up colorful stalls and arranging traditional dance performances.

UAE citizens performs traditional dance to celebrate their country's 51st National Day in Islamabad, Pakistan, on December 1, 2022. (AN photo)

Pakistan’s defense minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif cut the cake as the chief guest of the ceremony which was also attended by information minister Maryam Aurangzeb and other political leaders and diplomats.
UAE Ambassador Hamad Obaid Al-Zaabi welcomed the guest while pointing out his country’s relations with Pakistan had only become stronger with time.
“As the wise leadership of UAE always stood first to assist and provide humanitarian support to the brotherly Pakistani people, as and when needed in times of national crisis and natural calamities, it remained the largest relief assistance provider to the flood affectees,” he said.
Al-Zaabi noted an airbridge of humanitarian aid had been immediately established after the floods on the directives of President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
“The airbridge of humanitarian aid established by UAE carried 57 flights to Pakistan and 205 containers carrying thousands of tons of foods, health packages and various shelter materials,” he continued.

Other than that, he added, several non-governmental organizations based in his country, such as the UAE Red Crescent and Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Foundation, were still working in the field to provide rescue and relief assistance to the survivors of the devastating floods.
Al-Zaabi said the UAE believed that the future of regional security depended on strong multilateral partnerships and a common commitment to stability and prosperity through peaceful political and economic means.
“As home to more than 200 nationalities from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds, the UAE is deeply committed to safeguarding human rights and building upon its steady progress in this field,” he continued. “Over the years, the UAE has signed several treaties to protect human rights and, in October 2021, the UAE won the membership of the UN Human Rights Council for the 2022-2024 term for the third time in its history.”

The UAE embassy arranged a colorful event in Islamabad, Pakistan, on December 1, 2022, to celebrate the Arab state's 51st National Day. (AN photo)

The UAE envoy said his country had adopted strategies that stimulated economic diversification by moving away from oil and working for greater prosperity by relying on scientific and technological progress.
Speaking on the occasion, Pakistan’s information minister congratulated the government and people of UAE on their National Day on behalf of her country.
“The UAE is Pakistan’s largest trading partner and one of the largest foreign investors,” she said while adding that Pakistani people considered the Arab state as their second home.
“The two countries have established brotherly relations based on common heritage and multilateral cooperation,” she added.


After success of Maula Jatt, biopic on iconic Pakistani wrestler Gama Pehlwan in the works

Updated 02 December 2022

After success of Maula Jatt, biopic on iconic Pakistani wrestler Gama Pehlwan in the works

  • ‘The Great Gama’ is expected to feature international cast and crew in addition to Pakistani artists
  • Gama Pehlwan remained India’s undefeated wrestling champion during the early 20th century

KARACHI: After the enormous success of “The Legend of Maula Jatt,” veteran Pakistani scriptwriter Nasir Adeeb is working on the dialogues of a new film focusing on the life of a legendary wrestler, Gama Pehlwan.

Born as Ghulam Mohammad Baksh Butt in a traditional Kashmiri Muslim family in 1878, Gama remained India’s undefeated wrestling champion during the early 20th century.

Even after more than five decades of his death, he continues to be a major inspiration for wrestlers in Pakistan.

“People are not expecting an ordinary film from me after Maula Jatt,” Adeeb told Arab News, adding “The Great Gama” would make an attempt to do justice with the iconic wrestler’s larger-than-life persona.

“The film will feature original events from his life, though we will tweak the rest of the story around it,” he continued. “We are not making a documentary. We are making a film.”

Adeeb said he found the idea of making the film on Gama “unique” since no one in Pakistan had tried to bring him to life on the big screen. He added he had been reading a lot about the subject while writing the script.

“A book has been published on him in India,” he informed. “We are getting it delivered here. I have already read everything on him that is available on Google.”

Gama was popular for defeating his opponents within the first few minutes of the fight. He also challenged several national and international players and overpowered them during the peak of his youth.

“I found him to be a very intriguing character,” said producer Shayan Khan whose company, Zashko Films, is working on the project. “I feel that Gama’s strength is very inspiring. It can set an example for our youth that anything is possible if we put our mind to it. Gama went around the world while proving the strength of our region.”

Khan hoped the film would be released in 2023 after being shot abroad with international cast and crew.

“We will have locations in the European and North American region as well as Pakistan,” he said. “Our goal will be to use as much cast and crew from Pakistan as possible.”