The call of the wild

March 1, 2020

The Lahore Zoo Safari is in the news, albeit for not-so-right reasons

Photos by Rahat Dar

Recently, human remains were found inside a lions’ enclosure at the Lahore Zoo Safari. Preliminary investigations revealed that the remains were those of Muhammad Bilal, aged 17 or 18, a resident of Fateh Singh Wala, who had been a gardener.

Photos by Rahat Dar

His parents as well as the zoo administration confirmed that Bilal had gone missing a day earlier. However, it wasn’t clear if he had entered the place of his own will or someone had dumped his body in the enclosure after killing him. (investigations were underway at the time of filing this article.)

Photos by Rahat Dar

The Safari Park is not new to such incidents. In 2010, Atif Saeed, a fine nature photographer, miraculously escaped an attack by a lion while taking its picture at the park. Earlier, in 2008, a Bengal tiger was reported to have attacked a security guard at the park. The guard’s jugular vein had been ruptured, causing excessive blood loss. The park administration had blamed the incident on the negligence of lower staff.

Photos by Rahat Dar

Located off Raiwind Road, the Lahore Zoo Safari is a huge facility, spread over 247 acres. It was established in 1981. It’s a ticketed park, managed by the Zoo Maintenance Committee (ZMC), which is headed by the chairman of Punjab Wildlife and Parks Department (PWPD). The attractions include a large walkthrough aviary which is home to the likes of Indian peafowl, mute swan, nilgai, ostrich, cranes, and silver pheasant. Besides, there are deer, lions, crocodiles, and tigers to be found. The place also has a safari track covering an area of 80 acres.

Photos by Rahat Dar

Safari parks are open places, much larger than the zoos which usually house animals and birds in small cages and don’t allow them a lot of free movement. Safari parks have animals freely roaming about. The experience is closer to their natural habitat.

Photos by Rahat Dar

Globally, safari parks are preferred over zoos as these help the animals lead healthy lives, and are governed by internationally accepted rules. Dr Muhammad Azhar, a veterinary officer at the Lahore Zoo Safari, tells TNS, “The lion safari is spread over 10 acres of land. Once the park is closed no one is allowed to enter the place. There are double-fence walls around the enclosure. The boy [Bilal] had crossed both the hurdles and come inside. Even though our guards were on duty, the area is so large that every area cannot be monitored.”

Photos by Rahat Dar

He adds, “There are 39 lions in the enclosure. Besides, there’s a tigers’ enclosure. They are set free in groups during the day. People take buses to tour these enclosures. Those are properly locked. No one is allowed to open the window to experience wild cats up close, as these are the protocols of interacting with the beasts.”

Photos by Rahat Dar

The visitors can view the animals while driving through the park.

Dr Uzma Khan of World Wide Fund for Nature (Pakistan) is of the view that it is difficult to blame the authorities as the boy was caught jumping the fence by the CCTV cameras. She advocates “an awareness campaign regarding safety, such as not taking such animals lightly, how to treat them, especially because the safari park is surrounded by residential colonies.”

Photos by Rahat Dar

Talking about the nature of the beast, Dr Khan says the animals always mark their territories. “If they spot a stranger intruding, they get defensive. They are only familiar with their handlers who give them food and clean their pens. No new person is welcome.”

Dr Taimur Saleem, a veterinary doctor at a clinic in Lahore, says that “wild animals kill for food or for sport. Big cats’ behaviour is not predictable. They cannot be treated like domestic cats. People like Muhammad Bilal unnecessarily risk their life. One can’t really blame the lions.”

The call of the wild: Lahore Zoo Safari is in the news as a boy was eaten by a lion