It’s common in every country and culture to admire and even go so far as to revere certain qualities in animals, especially those in the wild. We see the elephant in terms of wisdom and grace, the eagle as a representation of insight and having a higher perspective. And the lion has long been a symbol of courage, strength, and sheer majesty.
Exotic Animals in Captivity
It is often a source of controversy, however, when we humans try to hold wild animals in captivity, particularly when contained in small, unnatural enclosures in zoos or as circus performers. A common house cat may be perfectly content living its entire life indoors, but the territory of a lion in the wild can range anywhere from 20 to 400 square kilometers. Denying them their natural habitat and way of life is pitted against the public’s desire to see and enjoy these beautiful, exotic animals up close. The situation can become especially concerning–not to mention dangerous–when people choose to keep wild animals in their domiciles.
Exotics as a Status Symbol in Pakistan
If the lion is the king of the jungle, then the man who owns a lion (or several) is someone to behold. Certainly, it is a brave man that is willing to share his home with such a ferocious animal! As a symbol of wealth and power, it has become fashionable in recent years to collect young lion and tiger cubs and raise them as household pets. In increasing frequency, they are being seen in gardens, occupying rooftop cages, out for walks with their owners, or seated beside them in their pricey SUVs as they drive through major, bustling cities like Karachi and Islamabad. In some cases, in exchange for a fee, their owners may offer onlookers the opportunity to take a selfie with their exotics. In such cases, it’s a not a bad idea for the owner not only to carry coverage for the pet, but also an extensive liability insurance policy.
Big cats aren’t the only exotic animals snatched up by the upper crust. It is not unusual to find pythons, flamingos, deer, bears, wolves, and even giraffes occupying private petting zoos in the heart of major cities. The unlawful trade of endangered Sekker falcons is particularly profitable as they can be sold to Arab elites who use them to hunt Hubara Bustards, a large terrestrial bird in Pakistan that is supposed to be protected.
Big Cats in Pakistani Politics
In Pakistan, the lion rules supreme. And if a lion is not available, then a tiger will also suffice. Thus, the political leader who is compared to a lion or sher is highly regarded, and it is not uncommon for the sale of lions and tigers to spike during election season. Candidates often delight in parading a chained or caged big cat at political rallies. To the Pakistani, it is the ultimate symbol of power.
Wildlife Trade: A Lucrative Business
It is legal to import lions and tigers into Pakistan, although the government does require importers to jump through more than a few hoops to obtain the necessary licenses and permits. The law requires that imported animals be provided an environment similar to their natural habitat. However, once they are brought into the country, there is little regulation with regard to habitat, nor to feeding, housing, and general care. Additionally, the trade of big cats is supposed to be off-limits to individuals, but because Pakistan is run by its separate provincial governments, they are largely silent on the subject. As a result, social media sites are rife with offers from online animal marketplaces, and it is not unheard of for a Pakistani with a well-padded wallet to pay $9,000 for a baby lion cub.
Adila works as a high school teacher and volunteers on various community services. She is also a freelance translator where she translates certain articles for school and organizations.