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by Uzma Khan

It was disappointing to see PM Nawaz Sharif’s party leaders were seen dragging live tigers and lions on the streets throughout election campaigns by political affiliates or supporters.

Recently, the lunch hosted by PM Nawaz Sharif the former president Asif Ali Zardari gave us yet another example of how the PML-N leadership might not be so committed to wildlife preservation. News kept flashing on the leading channels about the deer on the elaborate lunch menu. This is the most blatant disrespect for wildlife laws by the head of government himself. The silence of the wildlife authorities is even more haunting.

The Punjab Wildlife and Parks Department should at least lead an inquiry.

The Sharif family has one registered wildlife breeding farm in Jati Umra — the Shamim Wildlife Breeding Farm — that has birds, deer and antelope species such as the spotted deer, hog deer, chinkara etc.

All deer and wild antelope species including the hog deer, the barking deer, chinkara, blackbuck and nilgai are protected under the Punjab Wildlife (Protection, Preservation, Conservation & Management) Act 1974 (Act No II). Considering that the said lunch was hosted in Punjab, I will focus on the exact clauses of the 1974 Act, although the clauses are similar in the other provincial laws.

These species are listed in both schedule two and three and can only be hunted and possessed through permits issued by the Punjab Wildlife and Parks Department. Legally, no one can even transfer or gift these protected species unless the recipient has a valid permit. There are numerous private wildlife breeding farms in Punjab that also keep these deer and antelope species. These private facilities are registered under the Punjab Wildlife Act. The law explicitly states that, “hunting and shooting wild animals shall not be allowed in private wildlife park, private safari park, circus and private wildlife breeding farms’.

Thus, whether the deer venison served at the lunch came from a private wildlife facility owned by PM Sharif or was gifted to him by someone — both stand illegal.

It is appalling that the head of government, along with all those seemingly representing the political leadership of Pakistan, the custodians of the country and its resources, were feasting on a protected species with the wildlife authorities acting as if they are oblivious to it all.

The only legal way to serve venison is to make use of an animal that was hunted with the permits from the Punjab Wildlife and Parks Department.

I called a senior wildlife officer to confirm when was the last trophy hunt animal in Punjab and he said that it was back in June 2014. Therefore, that deer served on Nawaz’s lunch table cannot be a trophy hunted animal.

The Private Breeding Farm Rule 2012 formulated under the Punjab Wildlife Act requires private facilities to maintain a record of breeding and mortality and are liable to inspection and monitoring.

Clause 8 of the rules state:

“The officer authorised by the government shall inspect the farm after every three months to monitor the facilities provided on the farm and maintenance of the record”.

There are at least 105 private wildlife breeding farms in Punjab.

The wildlife authorities do not have the resources and capacity to monitor all these facilities every three months and this particular deer feast was highlighted because of the high-profile nature of the lunch. There is a dire need to regulate standards of managing these private facilities and taking strict notice of the anomalies. Moreover, we need more clarity as to why we have this growing number of private wildlife facilities; the animals they breed cannot go back to the wild and only a handful of them are open to visitors. Therefore, they do not contribute to public education like the leading zoos in Pakistan. Opening the private facilities to organised groups would improve transparency and standards of keeping animals.

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