Driving across the residential area of DHA, you might come across the dotted neck of a giraffe peeking out of a white compound wall. You might think it strange to find an endangered species wandering across a stranger’s garden- yet, across our city, there reside hundreds of exotic creatures snatched from their homes and kept as shallow displays of wealth. This is nothing new.
Keeping exotic species as pets has been deeply rooted in our culture and has been a cause of concern for decades. Animals ranging from lions, tigers, cheetahs, wolves, bears and giraffes can be found in various neighbourhoods across Pakistan. Many have been snatched away from their homes at an early age, suffered away from their natural habitats in abhorrent environments and grown up in captivity. Veterinary surgeons have reported severe deficiencies in captive animals brought to their clinics. As a result of inadequate care, captive animals suffer from behavioural issues, bones turning brittle and a loss of hunting sense.
Over 300 lions are estimated to be kept as pets in Karachi, and are being sold and purchased in an underground web of illegal wildlife trade. One ‘enthusiast’ owns over 4,000 animals of 800 different species across his residential nine-acre property, including zebras, flamingos, horses and the endangered white lion. These animals are easily available- for a sum of Rs. 1.4 million, expert exporters can deliver a white lion to a client within 48 hours, and the process is totally legal.
These loopholes in legislation have often been exploited to purchase exotic creatures, and there are few laws to safeguard animals and control such behaviour. While some legislation- including the Wildlife Act 2012- outline procedures regarding the importing of wild animals, it is in desperate need of reassessment and update. The laws that safeguard the rights of local animals do not extend to animals that are imported. As the law is “silent on breeding”, some breeders are even legally ‘lion farming’ to make these creatures more available, leading to an attitude of neglect that threatens an already endangered species.
“A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members i.e. minorities and animals”, says Mashal Khan, actress and animal activist.
“Social welfare states such as countries part of the EU treat animals as persons and take their rights as seriously as those of humans. Each life is important. Violence and negligence toward animals and their welfare should be criminalised here and the criminalisation needs to be implemented, much as it is internationally."
In conclusion, this shallow display of wealth by the rich and privileged leads to an increased vulnerability of captive animals and threatens an endangered species. Pakistan is in desperate need of legislation that quells this problem and safeguards the rights of imported animals.
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