With over a dozen cameramen scrambling to capture a shot, the much touted white lions and Bengal tigers finally had their public debut at the Karachi Zoo on Tuesday.
Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) Administrator Muhammad Hussain Syed did the honours and hundreds of people jostled for a glimpse of the newest additions to the Karachi Zoo. Children tried to jump over the barriers and young men cracked jokes about the lazy tiger. Everyone was excited except for one man - Sher Muhammad.
Muhammad is the caretaker of Lion Line, the area of the zoo where all the lions are kept. When the night falls and everyone has left, he is the last one to take a stroll, dangling a bunch of keys in hand.
“I feel sorry for the other lions,” he said, referring to the African lions that have been at the zoo for the quite some time. “They are angry. Everyone is paying attention to the new white lions.”
Sheroo, as he is commonly called in the zoo, has to pacify both breeds and ensure that he gives equal attention to the African lions and the white ones. Even though they are the centre of attention, the white lions are upset too. According to Sher Muhammad, it is because everything is new for them.
“It will take at least a week to help familiarise themselves with the environment.”
The white lions and the Bengal tigers arrived at the zoo on Sunday but authorities decided to unveil them to the public only after KMC Administrator Syed inaugurated their enclosure.
Syed said that KMC was trying to bring exotic species of giraffe, zebras and hippopotamus. “Now it is important for the zoo administration to keep the animals healthy and properly vaccinate them.”
The recent appointment of veterinarian Dr Kazim Hussain as director of the zoo was a step to ensure the health of animals, he said.
The successive deaths of animals in the past few months at the zoo have not helped with publicity. However, the administration insists that most of the deaths have been because of natural causes and had nothing to do with how the animals are kept.
But Syed said a managing committee will be formed to oversee the management of the zoo.
“Civil society, experts and people from the media will be part of that committee. It can meet every few days to check the zoo’s affairs.”
He also announced a competition to name the white lions and the tigers. The winner will get a Rs10,000 reward.
This will be another change for the discomfited lions, which were already given names by their owner in Belgium. The male white lion is called Fernando and the female Petriata. The male tiger is called Marquis. The tigress apparently does not have a name.
All the cats are under two years of age. The importer has given a 15-day guarantee for their survival, but after that all responsibility for their well being rests with the zoo.
Given the publicity surrounding the new animals’ arrival, there has been unprecedented excitement, zoo officials said.
“Many more people came here on Monday. I have never seen so many visitors on a weekday,” said a guard. “Most of them were disappointed though as the white lions had not been put for public viewing then. Many even turned away from the gates.”
Muhammad Naheed had come to the zoo with his five kids. “I had to take a day off. My children were jumping up and down in excitement seeing the news on television. I think it was worth it.”
View pictures of the animals here.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 18th, 2012.
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