KARACHI: In the past few months you may have come across lions roaming in the metropolis, being driven around in Toyota Vigos and scores of young residents making videos of them. No, this is not a scene from Dubai or an African country where lions roam freely, this happens in Karachi.
Social media was already outraged by wildcats travelling in cars and the recent sighting of a lion travelling in a Vigo was brought to the notice of the Sindh government. Home Minister Sohail Anwar Siyal ordered the arrest of the lion’s owner, Saqlain, on Wednesday night.
Around four days back, Saqlain was making his way home in his Vigo from Defence after having his lion vaccinated. It was in Meena Bazaar in Karimabad where traffic had come to a halt and fellow commuters began making videos of the lion sitting in the back of the vehicle while tethered to the side. A group of four men are also seen sitting in the back of the Vigo. The videos began spreading on social media, especially Whatsapp.
Three days later, Siyal took notice of the incident and ordered Saqlain’s arrest. He was taken into custody from FB Area’s Block 13 on charges of spreading fear and his lion was kept under police supervision in a cage constructed at his house.
Saqlain is famously known as Saqlain Sher Wala in his neighbourhood. Talking to The Express Tribune, Saqlain said that he got the licence to keep the lion in 2007. “My only mistake was to keep the lion at the back of my vehicle in the open,” he lamented, adding that in his house he has a large enclosure for the lion. The social media, he said, blew the incident out of proportion, which is why he was arrested.
Saqlain, however, admitted that his travelling permit for his lion had expired and said the police agreed to leave his house on the condition that he would not travel with the big cat.
As Saqlain was presented before a judicial magistrate by the police, his lawyer moved a bail application on his behalf and argued that his client possessed a licence and all other documents required to keep the lion. He insisted that his client was a law abiding citizen and the charges brought up against him were bailable. Therefore, he should be granted bail, the lawyer added. The judge, after listening to the arguments, approved his bail plea and directed him to submit a surety of Rs20,000.
Saqlain is not alone in his love for out of the ordinary pets. Animal enthusiasts Hamza and Hassan Hussain are residents of PECHS and also had a lion in their home for about a year. The lion, which was named Simba, became a social media star. Hamza disclosed that they have now shifted Simba to their farmhouse.
Sindh wildlife department
Ironically, the Sindh wildlife department – the authority that issues licenses to keep wild animals as pets – has no clue about the lions roaming around the city. License branch incharge Rashid Agha told The Express Tribune that wild animals can only be kept inside a zoo, as they only issue zoos permits.
The permit, he said is issued after proper inspection by their team. However, he was not aware of how many licences they have issued to keep wildcats in the metropolis so far.
Meanwhile, Chief Provincial Conservator Saeed Akhtar Baloch said that they issue licences as per the Sindh Wildlife Protection Ordinance, 1972 and Guidelines for the Acquisition and Management of Felines (Cat Species) in Captivity from the Ministry of Climate Change.
According to the guideline documents, the guidelines have been developed with the purpose to control the illegal trade of big cats and unjustified acquisition of animals for zoo exhibits, overlooking the higher objectives of conservation and education.
The document explains that wild felines can only be housed at registered facilities. Individuals cannot keep wild felines at their homes, as they do not contribute to education, research or conservation and this is not in line with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and can be dangerous. Such an action is liable to punishment under Section 289 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), 1860 and Section 133 (public nuisance) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1989.
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) – Pakistan’s technical adviser, Uzma Khan, who has authored the guideline document, told The Express Tribune that that though the guidelines have been approved by the Ministry of Climate Change and the provinces, they have not been made into a law yet as they have not been passed by the assemblies.
She said that local government laws, however, clearly state that any animal that can cause public nuisance cannot be brought openly into public places and the relevant district commissioner’s officer or police station would have to take action against any such violation.
She explained that the wildlife act for exotic species is extremely weak. “If someone purchases an exotic species from a local breeder, the wildlife act wouldn’t be applicable for them,” she lamented.