Bilal Mansoor Khawaja beams as he runs his palms over the ivory coat of a white lion, one of thousands of exotic animals at his personal “zoo” in Karachi, where a thriving wildlife trade caters to Pakistan’s gilded elite.
“These are ... [some] of the rarest animals I own,” the 29-year-old industrialist boasts of his leashed lion.
Pakistani laws make it easy to import exotic animals, but once inside the country regulation is almost non-existent.
This has led to an untold number of such creatures — especially big cats, seen as symbols of wealth and power — being imported or bred across Pakistan in recent years, much to the horror of helpless wildlife officials.
Social media is littered with videos of wealthy Karachiites cruising with lions sitting in the front seats of luxury SUVs, while newspapers have featured reports of arrests of residents brazenly taking their big cats out for strolls and drives.
Khawaja estimates there are up to 300 lions within Karachi’s city limits alone, kept in gardens, inside rooftop cages and at farm houses across the sun-baked metropolis of about 20 million — notorious for its grinding traffic, crumbling infrastructure and lack of greenspaces.
Khawaja calls his handful of lions and a tiger the “crown jewels” of a larger collection of more than 4,000 animals he has amassed in recent years.
He said his collection — made up of about 800 different species — is not about status or prestige, but simply a manifestation of his love for pets.
“We Pakistanis have a problem: Where our heart is soft, it’s very soft. Where it’s hard, it’s very hard,” he said.
To care for his flock, he has more than 30 people working in shifts and four vets on staff.
The entire operation costs a fortune, Khawaja said, declining to provide an estimate of just how much he shelled out for his personal zoo.
However, the cost and the series of minor injuries he has accrued over the years at the hands of his pets are well worth it, he said.
“With every injury my love for these animals ... grows more,” he said, smiling.
His 3.6-hectare property where a portion of his animals, including zebras, flamingos and horses, reside is smack in the middle of a dense neighborhood in the megacity.
Exotic animal dealer Aleem Paracha, who claims to be one of the top three importers of exotic animals in Karachi, says that for 1.4 million rupees (US$9,000) he can deliver a white lion to a client in up to 48 hours — and do so entirely legally.
Certificates from the countries of origin along with permits from authorities are provided for any animal brought into Pakistan in accordance with an international treaty to protect endangered species.
However, Paracha said there is also a network of breeders across Pakistan that can also provide lions at a moment’s notice, including at least 30 in Karachi.
“In Karachi, lion farming is going very well,” he said.
While indigneous species are fiercely protected in Pakistan, the same protections are not extended to imported animals.
The government has guidelines regarding the treatment and type of enclosures big cats and other exotic species should be provided with.
But “the law is silent” on breeding, said Javed Mahar, head of Sindh Province’s wildlife department.
WWF technical adviser Uzma Khan said there is not even an authority monitoring government-run zoos, which are notorious for neglect, let alone the private sector.
“There’s lots of private breeders and they are very shady,” she said.
While owners like Khawaja may have the means and passion to provide the hearty diet for their animals, others have been known to fall short.
Karachi veterinarian Isma Gheewala said lions suffering from calcium deficiencies are common at her clinic, where she said she has treated between 100 and 150 big cats over the years.
“The bones become extremely brittle,” she said. “And if they jump like a foot down, they will injure some bone or the other and then it takes a long time for the animals to recover.”
Paracha and Khawaja dismiss claims they are doing anything harmful by taking exotic species out of their natural habit and raising them in Pakistan.
“A lot of animals, either they’re extinct or they’re on the edge of being extinct,” Khawaja said, adding: “I don’t want the next generations to not see these animals.”
However, conservationists like Khan dismiss such arguments.
“An animal in captivity is not the way it is in the wild,” she said. “What’s the point of having an animal which is not hunting, which is in a cage not showing its natural behavior?”
CLOSELY TRACKED: A US officer said that the warplanes were watched as they flew from Russia by way of Iran and Syria to Libya and were photographed multiple times The US Africa Command flatly rejected Russian claims that Moscow did not deploy fighter jets to Libya, saying on Friday that the 14 aircraft flown in reflect Russia’s long-term goal to establish a foothold in the region that could threaten NATO allies. US Brigadier General Gregory Hadfield, deputy director of intelligence, said that the US tracked the MiG-29s and Su-24 fighter bombers flown in by Russian military, passing through Iran and Syria before landing at Libya’s al-Jufra air base. The base is the main forward airfield for Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and his self-styled Libyan National Army, which has been waging an
‘SACRIFICED’: Hu Weifeng became the sixth doctor to die from COVID-19 at Wuhan Central Hospital, where calls to raise the alarm over the virus were suppressed The death of a Chinese doctor at Wuhan’s “whistle-blower hospital” has prompted a wave of anger at hospital authorities for not protecting front-line health workers in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak. Hu Weifeng (胡衛鋒), 42, a urologist at Wuhan Central Hospital where the whistle-blower ophthalmologist Li Wenliang (李文亮) worked, died of the virus on Tuesday after a four-month battle. Hu is the sixth doctor from his hospital killed by the virus. Another doctor who spoke out, Ai Fen (艾芬), said that authorities told hospital staff not to wear protective gear so as not to cause panic and reprimanded her for “harming
‘LEAST WE CAN DO’: The gesture was made famous by former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who was protesting police brutality that targeted minorities They are images that surprised and moved Americans: police officers taking a knee alongside protesters in the most widespread civil unrest to rock the US in decades — and in doing so embracing an anti-racism gesture denounced by US President Donald Trump. As Trump pushes for a crackdown on often-violent protests over the death of George Floyd, police officers from New York to Los Angeles to Houston, Texas, are making gestures of solidarity with demonstrators incensed at the latest case of an unarmed black man dying while in police custody. “I took off the helmet and laid the batons down. Where do
Singapore’s otters, long adored by the city-state’s nature lovers, are popping up in unexpected places during the COVID-19 lockdown, but their antics have angered some and even sparked calls for a cull. With the streets empty, the creatures have been spotted hanging out by a shopping center, scampering through the lobby of a hospital and even feasting on pricey fish stolen from a pond. While many think of tiny Singapore as a densely populated concrete jungle, it is also relatively green for a busy Asian city, and has patches of rainforest, fairly clean waterways and abundant wildlife. There are estimated to be about