Lions Roar at Karachi Airport

Posted on December 26, 2010
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Environment, Law & Justice
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Adil Najam

Sorry, I could not resist the headline (do please suggest a better one). Actually, I do not know if the lions roared or not. But four lions did land at Karachi airport. They were, however, promptly ‘seized.’ The question, now, is to figure out what needs to be done with them, to them, and to those who brought them to Karachi.

Confused? So was I. Here are some details from Bhagwandas (one of Pakistan’s finest environmental reporters) at Dawn:

Four lions, a rare species, being “imported” on an expired permission were seized by the customs authorities at Karachi airport in the early hours of Wednesday (Dec. 22). Sources said that the lions were handed over to the Sindh Wildlife Department (SWD) late Wednesday night for safe keeping till the issue was sorted out. The sources added that the lions were shifted to the Karachi Zoological Gardens because the SWD did not have any such facility of its own where the carnivorous big cats could be housed.

Until some years back, big cats — mainly lions and tigers — were imported in large numbers by the private sector as some people kept the big cats in their private zoos as a status symbol. The National Council for Conservation of Wildlife (NCCW) banned the import of all big cats by private parties when the issue was highlighted in the media. Customs Deputy Collector Attaullah Shabbir earlier told Dawn that he had received a letter from NCCW official Umeed Khalid that the certificate being shown by the importer, which had been issued in January 2008, was not valid and no animals could be imported on that NOC. He said he was told that the consignment should not be released as there was a complete ban on the import of big cats by private parties.

… Responding to Dawn queries from Islamabad, NCCW`s Umeed Khalid said that no NOC had been issued to private parties to import lions or big cats over the past couple of years, as the government had imposed a ban on their import. “So if the importer was presenting any NOC issued by the NCCW it would not be valid for import,” he added. The sources said that the only NOC / permission the NCCW had issued for import of tigers after the ban was in place was in the name of Salman Shahbaz, the son of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. But when the media reported the matter on the imported Siberian tiger`s arrival, Mr Sharif immediately announced that the tiger would be donated to the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government. However, the decision was changed before it could be handed over to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and now the Siberian tiger was being kept at a Punjab wildlife department`s facility located in the Murree Hills, the sources added.

… She said that she was requesting customs officials to detain these lions and these animals, most probably, would be kept at the Karachi Zoo, as the SWD does not have a facility of its own where such animals could be kept for safe keeping. Besides, the public could also see these lions at the zoo till the issue was sorted out after the legal proceedings. It is worth noting that Pakistan is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of Fauna and Flora which monitors and controls the trans-boundary relocation of highly endangered and rare species. Its focal point in the country is the National Council for Conservation of Wildlife (NCCW) which, if satisfied with the intentions of the importers, can issue permits for the import of such species controlled under the CITES.

Some of the questions I had, especially who exactly was importing these lions and why, were not answered in the although some (only some) answers came in the next day’s report in Dawn, which also added more questions to this intriguing episode (seems, for example, that the lions had also had a brief stopover in Islamabad – not unlike myself!):

The Sindh Wildlife Department on Thursday registered a case against the “importer” of four lions (scientific name Panthera leo) on charges of bringing the animals into the country and the province without prescribed legal documents. However, the customs authorities, who seized these lions at Karachi airport on their arrival from Islamabad and later handed them over to the SWD for safe keeping on Wednesday night, claimed that nobody had produced the relevant documents so far to get the consignment cleared. The lions were, meanwhile, shifted to the Karachi Zoological Gardens, as neither the customs department nor the wildlife department had any such facility of their own where such carnivorous big cats could be housed. SWD Game Officer Nazar Hussain said that a first offence report (FOR No 42/289 of 2010) — equivalent to FIR — had been registered against Mr Irfan of Osaka Traders under Sections 12, 13, 17, 33(a) of the Sindh Wildlife Protection Ordinance, 1972. He said the “importer” had been charged with bringing the lions into the country without prescribed legal documents.

… Sources said that these lions had started their journey from the South African city of Johannesburg and travelled by Lufthansa to Czech Republic in November. They added that Zoological Live Animal Supplier of Bapsfontein Republic of South Africa had sent four lions in four packages to Animal Source Czechia of Bustehrad, Czech Republic, on Nov 3, 2010. The lions were later taken to Frankfurt, Germany, from where the Animal Park of Bustehrad, Czech Republic, sent these lions through Douglas Borer Air Cargo to Islamabad for Mr Irfan of Osaka Traders. Around 7,440 Euros were paid as air freight for the lions, which were booked through airway bill No: 214-7575-6590 on a Pakistan International Airlines flight (PK 301/788), with certain directions to the airlines that lions should not be fed during transportation and they be kept in temperature ranging between 10 and 20 degrees centigrade.

The four lions eat approximately 40 kilograms of meat a day that costs around Rs7,000, which is reportedly causing problems for the zoo, wildlife department and customs. The zoo authorities wanted that either the SWD or someone else paid the food bill of these lions though the zoo income was said to have increased on Thursday as many visitors thronged the place where the newcomers had been housed. The “importer” of these lions, Mr Irfan, was in the zoo for most part of the day looking after the lions and he had also provided food for them, according to Zoo Director Mansoor Kazi. The sources said that if the zoo did not provide the food to these lions, there were chances that these could be relocated to some other government facility where the lions could be fed properly.

More and more questions, it seems. In comes a report in The News which read as if it had some answers, but actually did not even add to the questions:

It’s not just the Sharif brothers who are fond of big cats; The News has learnt from reliable sources that it is a Karachi-based politician who has allegedly imported the four lions seized by Customs authorities at the Karachi airport on Wednesday…. According to the sources, the known politician, who is currently in Saudi Arabia, has a passion for wildlife…. Some experts, when contacted by The News, wondered why the lions were not handed over to the Islamabad zoo where they had first landed…. They said that nobody had known about the lions if the politician belonging to a major political party of the country had not gone abroad.

A later report in The News had this to add:

The importer of four lions that were seized by the customs authorities on the basis of expired No Objection Certificate has moved Sindh High Court for securing immediate custody of the lions that he had imported for a private zoo from South Africa. M/s Osaka traders that used to deal in import of animals from different countries challenged the seizure of lions by customs authorities, submitting that the import was made through valid NOC by the National Council for Conservation of Wildlife as it was informed to the petitioner by the Sindh Wildlife Department that NCCW had no objection if CITES (Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species) permit is issued in favour of the petitioner for the import of lions.

The petitioner through its representative Irfan Ahmed submitted in the petition that as per the bye-laws of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of Fauna and Flora no import permit is required for the signatories and in January 2008 the NCCW issued NOC for the import of 10 lions from South Africa…. The petitioner submitted that customs authorities refused to release the lions on the directives of NCCW and the same were later shifted to Sindh Wildlife Department. The lions are presently kept at Karachi Zoological Garden due to lack of facility at the Wildlife Department.

So, plenty of drama – more, probably, than necessary. But what of the poor lions?Who speaks for them?

At one level, this is mere trivia. An interesting headline. Something to smile about and let go. But, at another level so much of what is wrong with society at large seems on display here: a disregard for animal welfare or nature as a whole, silly, even obnoxious, displays of wealth and power, disregard for law, a tendency to turn everything into a complex legal matter, a litigativeness that can become stifling for the law and nauseating for everyone else.

15 responses to “Lions Roar at Karachi Airport”

  1. Naveed Abbas says:

    The good, the bad, the ugly…..

  2. Eidee Man says:


    I doubt that it is. Sharifs have previously tried to import lions, or maybe tigers, anyway, big cats, definitely. Also, if I remember correctly, they used to parade lions in cages during rallies in the nineties. Does anyone else remember this?

  3. Indian Drama Serials says:

    i think this is a really fake story.

  4. It means PML-N is preparing for Elections.

  5. Eidee Man says:

    The Sharifs hide behind bullet-proof glass in their own constituencies, and yet they have the bravado to keep full-grown lions as pets. Amazing.

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