Sher aya

April 14, 2024

A tigress escaped while being transported in the still of the night, raising questions about public safety, implementation of SOPs and devolution of power

Sher aya


t is midnight and the villagers are fast asleep in Basti Rata when a Suzuki pick-up carrying a Royal Bengal tigress trundles on the unmetalled road.

A ditch in the road cuts across the path making a small watercourse, dividing the path into two. There is a thump as the pick-up hits the ditch. Inside it, the cage carrying the big cat rattles.

Now there is a slit in the cage door. That’s all the tigress needs to make her escape. The smart animal uses her paws to pry the cage door open, leaps out of the pick-up and disappears in a grove of mango trees, periodically emitting majestic roars that wake up the entire village.

The news that a tigress has been spotted in the mango orchards spreads like wildfire. It is an unusual sight. Tigers are not known to prowl this area. Panic grips some people and confusion builds up.

It is not as if there are no protocols on how to safely transport wildlife. Standard operating procedures spell out how to handle wildlife for the benefit of dealers and breeders. Complying with them can prevent the occurrence of such incidents. According to the Wildlife Department, the animal was being transported illegally.

After the tigress has escaped, its handler, Muhammad Adnan, makes a call to 15, Police Rescue. The police liaise with the Wildlife Department and some officials arrive on the spot. Senior veterinarian and wildlife specialist Dr Amir Rashid is one of them. “Twice, in an attempt to tranquillise the tigress, we targeted her with a dart gun. On the second attempt, we were successful. She fell unconscious on the ground,” he tells The News on Sunday.

Referring to the unique challenge of rescuing tigers, he says, “Tigers exhibit hunting and attack behaviors that highlight their potential as apex predators. They are expert hunters and intelligent animals. They move through dense vegetation with remarkable stealth to reach the prey undetected. Employing ambush tactics, they patiently wait for the right moment to launch their high-speed chase, sprinting at breakneck speed to catch up with prey. With a powerful lunge due to their strong hind legs, tigers deliver powerful tackles, often targeting key areas such as the neck or spine for quick and effective strikes. Their strategic hunting strokes involve choking bites and territorial ambushes. They demonstrate exceptional intelligence and adaptability. Tigers’ ability to swim silently adds to their versatility in surprising and overpowering prey, and cements their position as formidable predators in their ecosystem.”

The South Punjab Wildlife and Fisheries Department deputy director Muhammad Zahid Iqbal has submitted a detailed incident report. “First information was received from the South Punjab secretary Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries and South Punjab director general regarding escape of a Bengal tiger (female) during illegal shifting to Multan city via Suzuki pick-up vehicle registration No MNS-17-1827 around midnight on March 30-31. A wildlife rescue team under his supervision quickly responded and approached the site in the Alpa police area in Saddar tehsil of Multan,” reads the report.

The report says the vehicle was seized immediately and two suspects identified as Nadeem and Amir were arrested by the wildlife staff. “A search and rescue operation was launched. As the area is covered by mango trees, the tigress was hard to locate but the wildlife staff successfully spotted and tranquillised her. The animal was temporarily shifted to 360-Zoo DHA and Veterinary Hospital, Multan, after nine hours of successful rescue operation,” the report reads.

The report says that had the wildlife team not responded in time, the animal could have caused quite a nuisance and harmed some of the civil population.

“Muhammad Adnan, a Category-I animals dealer, approached the office of the assistant director and submitted that his employees were guilty of negligence during shifting of a consignment from Lahore to Multan. He said he was prepared to pay a fine as per Wildlife Act 1974. As per Section 38 of the Act ibid he paid a Rs 221,000 fine,” says the report.

The Punjab Wildlife Act 1974 provides SOPs for handling wild animals. Section 15 of the Act relates to restrictions on dealing in animals, trophies or meat. Section 15 says, “(1) No person shall as a profession, trade or business, buy, sell or otherwise deal in wild animals, trophies or meat thereof or process or manufacture goods or articles from such trophies or meat, unless he is in possession of a valid licence, hereinafter called a dealer’s licence, to do so, issued by an officer authorised in this behalf.

“(2) The officer authorised in this behalf may, on payment of such fees as may be prescribed, grant a dealer’s licence to be valid for one year to any person, which shall entitle the licensee to deal in any wild animal, trophy or meat thereof, or any class of wild animals, trophies or meat specified in such license. Such a licence shall be renewable in such manner as may be prescribed.

“(3) For the purpose of assessment of fees, dealers may be divided into different classes and different fees may be prescribed for each class.

“(4) The holder of the dealer’s licence shall maintain a register or record of his dealings in such manner as may be prescribed, and shall produce them for inspection at any reasonable time when called upon to do so.”

Section 16-A says, “(1) The government may, by notification in the official gazette, declare any area, which is the property of the government or over which the government has the proprietary rights, to be a wildlife breeding farm.

“(2) The following acts shall be prohibited on a wildlife breeding farm:

“(a) hunting, shooting, trapping, killing or capturing of a wild animal;

“(b) firing or doing any other act which may disturb a wild animal or interfere with the breeding places;

“(c) felling, tapping, burning or in any manner damaging, destroying, taking, collecting, removing or taking away a plant or tree or leave, fruit or seed therefrom;

“(d) polluting water flowing in or through the wildlife park;

“(e) any act of feeding or teasing a wild animal;

“(f) damaging any structure.

“(g) any act of teasing or harassing visitors or otherwise, creating any pandemonium; and

“(h) any act in violation of any restrictions imposed by the government.

“Provided that the government may, for such purposes as it may deem expedient, authorise the doing of the aforementioned prohibited acts except at paras (d), (e), (g).”

Civil society activists say that the South Punjab Wildlife and Fisheries Department employees have little incentive to ensure implementation of sections and clauses of the Act because the Punjab Wildlife and Fisheries Department has centralised all powers and authority in Lahore. The department was devolved into Punjab and South Punjab sections but all powers are still centralised in Lahore.

Animal Safe Movement Pakistan president Khalid Mehmood Qureshi says laws are not a problem. He says the problem is implementation. “The South Punjab Wildlife Department has the role only of a ‘post office.’ They neither have the power to issue animal licences nor do they have the authority to document animal breeding farms or check their SOPs. These things are decided and implemented in Lahore,” says Qureshi.

Qureshi says, the department is toothless in the absence of suitable power and authority. That is one of the reasons some animal dealers do not comply with regulations and SOPs in South Punjab. “The violations of the SOPs and illegal transportation of wild animals will continue until the powers are properly delegated to South Punjab,” he says.

The writer is bureau chief of The News in Multan. He may be reached at

Sher aya