Fascinated by exotic animals, Pakistani elite tame the wild - GulfToday

Fascinated by exotic animals, Pakistani elite tame the wild

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Pakistani laws make it easy to import exotic animals, but once inside the country regulation is almost non-existent.

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.

The government has guidelines regarding the treatment and type of enclosures big cats and other exotic species should be provided with.

"These are... (some) of the rarest animals I own.

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.

"With every injury my love for these animals... grows more," he smiles.

Lion farming - 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 ($9,000) he can deliver a white lion to a client in up to 48 hours -- and do so entirely legally.

But Paracha says 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.

But "the law is silent" on breeding, explains Javed Mahar, head of Sindh province's wildlife department.

'The law is silent'

Meanwhile owners like Khawaja may have the means and passion to provide the hearty diet for their animals, but others have been known to fall short.

Karachi veterinarian Isma Gheewala says lions suffering from calcium deficiencies are common at her clinic, where she says she has treated between 100 to 150 big cats over the years.

"The bones become extremely brittle," she explains.

But both Paracha and Khawaja dismiss claims they are doing anything harmful by taking exotic species out of their natural habit and raising them in Pakistan.

Agence France-Presse