To Safari and back

May 12, 2024

A visit to the recently inaugurated Lion Safari reveals the state of big cats, and more

To Safari and back


espite all the hype surrounding its upgrade, the Lahore Safari Zoo may not guarantee you a trouble-free visit, if my recent firsthand experience is to go by.

For one thing, the ticket counter wasn’t functional; this was blamed on a power outage. The staff was letting the public go in just like that. I asked for guidance to the Lion Safari. When I reached the counter it was quite crowded; a large number of people were grumbling about how they had been made to wait long for the tickets. I decided to look around the place and found it littered with garbage.

I spotted a long queue of people slowly getting into what looked like a ‘cage’ placed on the deck of a pick-up truck. 10 to 15 people could board it, I was told. In the meantime, another pickup had returned from the safari ride. The passengers were complaining about not being able to see many big cats and the ride being too expensive.

Much as I was disturbed by the sight of people being bundled into a cage, I hoped that some of them would be able to empathise with the animals who were caged for life, away from their natural habitat.

After buying the ticket for Rs 300 and waiting in the queue for over an hour, I finally made it inside the ‘cage’ with about a dozen other people — men, women and children. The supervisor locked it from outside, just before the shuttle would move. That was when all sorts of dark thoughts started creeping up in my mind. What if we were held hostage or the driver got attacked?

In about 45 seconds, we had arrived at a large enclosure where the majestic big cats were waiting to greet us. Even though the Safari is said to have 15 adult African lions and a male cub, only three were visible at the time. The driver signalled them to follow our vehicle which they did out of sheer curiosity, sniffing at us, and looking us right in the eye, as if asking us how we felt about being caged. I doubt if that’s how most passengers took it; everyone was too busy taking pictures and cracking silly jokes.

The ride lasted about two minutes. Then we were back. We weren’t shown the tigers’ enclosure, even though it was part of the package.


In order to get a sense of the food intake and other needs of the big cats at the Safari, I spoke with Dr Rizwan Khan, a veterinary doctor. He said, “Each of the lions is fed 6-kg beef and 2-kg chicken. Their intake varies according to the climate.

“As for the cub who was rejected by its mother (a frequent occurrence among first-time mothers), it was initially fed on imported formula milk. It is now being introduced to meat.”

Talking about the handlers who’ve been working with lions for almost 20 years, Dr Khan said: “They understand the language of the lions. They drop them food from the roof above; there’s no direct interaction with the animals. The idea is to keep them safe.”

To Safari and back

Even though the Safari is said to have 15 adult African lions and a male cub, only three were visible at the time. The driver signalled them to follow our vehicle which they did out of sheer curiosity, sniffing us and looking us right in the eye.

The Lahore Safari Zoo has set up collaborations with several laboratories and institutes such as the University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences and Riphah University, in case a lion or tiger falls sick and/ or needs special care. Senior professors look into the test results and guide the handlers.

Dr Khan says when the place was being renovated the lions were moved to Bahawalpur Zoo and then brought back safely. “We ensure that they get healthcare and medical treatment on par with international standards,” he added. “If they get proper exercise and nourishing food, they do not develop any health issues.”

As the lions are not living in a jungle, they do not get to hunt animals as per their natural instinct. But they are encouraged to exercise to keep them active and busy. “Large pieces of meat are tucked away at various heights for the lions to make an effort and catch the food. Of course, we can’t give them live animals to hunt,” he said.


Recently, at the inauguration of the Lion Safari, Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz said that the government would build rescue shelters for wild animals with assistance from Four Paws International, an animal welfare organisation.

Approached for a comment, Dr Amir Khalil of the FPI said, “A lion needs 10,000 square metres of land. You need to add another 5,000 sq metres [of land] if you want to add another lion moving about freely.

“The lions need a very comfortable environment — a spacious area, with soft ground for their paws; grassy space for them to walk on, run and sit in shade and feel relaxed. They are very strong animals with tough muscles. They need a lot of exercise to let off excess energy. For this, they need huge play areas; they can’t be confined to cages. Otherwise they get depressed, develop bone issues, muscle weakness and arthritis.”

Ayeza Haider, an animal rights activist who runs a group called Voice for the Voiceless, believes that the facilities provided for the big cats at the Lion Safari were satisfactory even before the recent renovation. The new features are a bonus. She is also looking forward to other projects, such as rock formations which are being added to provide a higher platform to the lions — something they like and enjoy, as it creates a semblance of a jungle.

Talking about the rescue shelters for confiscated wild animals, Haider says, “It sounds like a good initiative, as such facilities are imperative to the rehabilitation of confiscated animals. Earlier, these were available on a rather small scale. This resulted in diminished performance by the Wildlife Departments that weren’t able to keep the wild animals after recovering them from poachers or hunters.

“Although space was available at some zoos and safari parks, the officials could not bring in a lot of unvaccinated animals because there was a threat of an outbreak of diseases,” she added. “If we can build shelters or quarantine centres, it will also discourage illegal practices by the poachers and the black market operators.”

She hopes that the government will pay attention to the needs of the animals: “New legislation is needed to safeguard the rights of all animals — be they wildlife, livestock, street or working animals. If the government takes the right steps that ensure proper regulation and implementation of policies, it will be contributing to a better tomorrow.”

R Umaima Ahmed is a freelance journalist

To Safari and back