For Kabul’s wealthy elite some things are de rigueur: armed guards, a marble-clad mansion and a blacked-out car; but one man has taken the flamboyant lifestyle a step further and bought a lion.
Mohammad Shafiq, a 42-year-old businessman, is very proud of his growling pet, which spends its days prowling a roof terrace at his sprawling home in a posh residential area of central Kabul.
“A friend said he had a lion in Kandahar and wanted to sell it to me,” said Shafiq, who runs a construction company. “I had seen lions on television and in the zoo, but never this close. So without any hesitation, I said I will buy it.”
The lion, still unnamed, is not chained up and spends much of the day lying quietly in a corner of the roof terrace above a storeroom, coming down each evening to eat.
Shafiq says he spends about US$1,000 a month employing a caretaker to feed it fresh meat bought from a butcher and paying a veterinarian to check its health regularly.
Tens of billions of dollars have flowed into Afghanistan in the 12 years since a US-led invasion toppled the Taliban. Some Afghans have become very rich as a result and are not shy about flaunting it.
Kabul is dotted with the flashy houses of the nouveau riche, dripping with chandeliers and nicknamed “poppy palaces” — hinting at the shady provenance of at least some of the money in the world’s leading opium producing nation.
However, Shafiq is thought to be the only person yet to have acquired such an unusual status symbol.
Shafiq, who says he was a resistance fighter when the Taliban fell and made his money through lucrative construction contracts for clients such as the US embassy, said he had owned the male cub for two months and thought it was now about six months old.
“It cost me US$20,000, including transport from Kandahar to Kabul by road,” he said, declining to explain about how the lion was driven on the 480km route that is often hit by bombs and ambushes.
During a visit to the house by a reporter and photographer, the lion appeared nervous and growled aggressively when approached.
Shafiq says he is very happy with his pet, but admits he may not be able to keep it in the long-term.
“I don’t know, I will see and I might give him to Kabul Zoo one day,” he said.
Kabul Zoo was once home to a half-blind lion called Marjan, who became a symbol of Afghan survival after living through coups, invasions, civil war and the Taliban era.