Lahore Safari Zoo was auctioning off a dozen of its 29 lions to private buyers to free up space

Lahore Safari Zoo now has so many big cats that their lions and tigers have to take it in turns to access the paddocks, said Tanvir Ahmed Janjua, the zoo’s deputy director. “Not only will we free up more space here, but our expenses for meat to feed them will also decrease,” he said.

The zoo is currently home to 29 lions, and officials plan an auction on August 11, 2022 to sell 12 of them, aged between two and five years old.

There are also six resident tigers and two jaguars.

Conservationists are opposed to the sale, with the environmental group WWF saying the creatures should be moved to other established zoos, or breeding females sterilised or given contraceptives.

“Animal exchanges and donations between zoos are a widely accepted practice,” the organisation’s Uzma Khan said. “Once an institution such as a zoo places a price tag on a wildlife species it is promoting trade — which is counterproductive to conservation,” she added.

Keeping lions, tigers and other exotic wildlife as pets is not uncommon in Pakistan, and is seen as a status symbol.

Wealthy owners post images and video clips of their big cats on social media, and rent them out as props for movies and photoshoots.

Zoo officials have set a reserve of Rs 150,000 Pakistan rupees ($700) per cat, but hope each will fetch around two million rupees. Not just anyone can take part in the auction, however.

Janjua said buyers will have to be registered with provincial authorities and show they have the means to provide proper care and shelter for the creatures.

Zoo veterinary officer Muhammad Rizwan Khan said an initial attempt in 2021 to auction lions fell through as potential buyers lacked the necessary documentation or licences.

Nouman Hassan, who fell foul of authorities in the past when he was filmed walking his pet tiger on a leash in Lahore, plans to take part. “I will try to buy two to three lions for sure,” he said, adding the auction was a good way to diversify the gene pool for private collectors who already owned a big cat.

With little legislation to safeguard animal welfare, zoos across Pakistan are notorious for their poor facilities, but the Lahore Safari Zoo is considered one of the best, set over 200 acres.

Veterinarian Khan said the animals at Lahore Safari Zoo were being given the best possible care — something reflected in their fecundity.

“They are experiencing a good life in captivity with us,” he said.

The daily Express Tribune in an editorial criticized this sale by saying that “animals have as much rights as humans and all living things must be treated with a certain sense of dignity. Unfortunately, in Pakistan, these rights have long remained unacknowledged and are blatantly violated. The dilapidated state of zoos across the country and the horrific treatment of animals is a case in point.

The Lahore Safari Zoo decision to auction off a dozen lions to private collectors to free up some space has raised concerns as conservationists as well as environmental and animal rights groups have expressed their displeasure at the idea of selling wildlife species. Instead, a more suitable option would have been to shift them to centers where they are properly taken care off. By initiating the selling of wildlife animals, authorities are setting a dangerous precedence. Not only will this create a culture of animal selling in zoos across the country, whereby officials may forcefully breed animals, but it will indirectly encourage poaching and trade of wildlife.

There must be a no-leniency policy with regard to the selling of wildlife animals as it goes against conservation and sustainability. There is still time for officials to rethink their decision and take the right step to uphold the sanctity of living creatures.”

Responding to the pressure, the Lahore Safari Zoo mercifully canceled its plan to auction the 12 lions from its ever-growing pride to private buyers, saying it would instead create new enclosures for the big cats.

The deputy director Tanvir Ahmed Janjua said officials had decided to speed up work building two new enclosures. Now that this issue is to be resolved soon, there is no need for the auction to take place. He denied that opposition from animal rights activists had led to the decision to cancel the auction. “Should the lions breed more, and we see we are running out of space once again, then we can easily hold another auction,” he said.

Set over 200 acres, Lahore Safari Zoo is considered one of the best in the country — where zoos are known for disregarding animal welfare.

In October 2022, the Lahore Safari Zoo Management Committee advised neutering African lions, in order to control their growing population. For the first time in Pakistan, neutering will be considered to control the breeding of a wild animal.

Similarly, in order to increase the number of tourists visiting the safari park, a tram and special coaster will be prepared for entrance to the safari, in addition to an immediate ban on camel-riding.

Chairman Lahore Safari Zoo Management Committee and Director Punjab Wildlife Mubeen Elahi, Badar Muneer, Uzma Khan, Deputy Director Safari Zoo Tanveer Janjua and other board members inspected different parts of Lahore Safari Zoo and made several key decisions.

The committee recommended spaying elder lions to control the increasing number of African lions. The committee said that as a first priority, surplus lions should transferred to other zoos and private breeders in the country. An African lion was immediately transferred to the Peshawar zoo, in exchange for an addax.

Committee members felt that there is no need to continue breeding lions, as they can neither be auctioned, nor does Pakistan have a natural environment where lions can be released like other animals. Keeping tigers at home is a common, albeit expensive, hobby, but these animals are kept in cages. Some pairs of tigers will be transferred from the safari to other enclosures immediately.

Animals can be neutered by using different injections. A pair of lions can produce a litter of one to three cubs every year. Additionally, a tiger needs 8 to 10 kgs of meat per day as per their diets.

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