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PESHAWAR: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa wildlife department has authorised a local resident to set up zoo over four kanals plot inside a residential colony of Peshawar amid concerns of officials and conservators.

Chief conservator (wildlife) Safdar Ali Shah told Dawn that his department had issued the provisional No Objection Certificate to Arab Gul of Muslim Town for the establishment of a zoo over four kanals of land.

He said like the public sector, the law allowed the zoo’s establishment in the private sector, too.

The resident has planned to develop a zoo over four kanals plot inside his residential compound.

Source claims permission granted in absence of rules, no mechanism exists to regulate such facility

He has already kept an African lion and pairs of pony and spotted deer.

Arab Gul said he had domesticated an African Lion which he obtained about three years ago. The lion has been kept in a130-foot wide iron cage.

“Keeping wild animals is my favourite hobby and so, I decided to establish own zoo,” he said.

The wildlife department had seized the resident’s African lion and fined him Rs40,000 for keeping it without licence.

It, however, handed the lion back on ‘superdari’ to the resident, who brought the cub illegally.

He later purchased more exotic animals and kept them in the house.

Arab Gul said the pony and spotted deer were expected to produce offspring soon.

This is the first zoo in the private sector in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The department has established a zoo in Peshawar last year, where various wild species including birds have been kept. Several animals have died due to a lack of facilities and skilled staff in the zoo, which drew criticism from the animals’ lovers and conservators.

Sources in the department said despite facing strong opposition of senior officials, the chief conservator issued the NOC for the zoo establishment.

They claimed that a relevant conservator had denied issuing the NOC to Arab Gul.

“This is a politically motivated case and the chief conservator was forced to issue NOC to Arab Gul to set up zoo in a small compound,” said a source.

He said the department had yet to formulate rules under the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Wildlife and Biodiversity (Protection, Preservation, Conservation and Management) Act, 2015.

“First, the department has to frame rules under the Act and then issue NOC for setting up zoo in the private sector,” he said.

The source said without framing rules, the department couldn’t authorise a person to set up zoo.

He said the department would define the area required for zoo, procurement of species, safety, licence for importing exotic animals, health guidelines for animals, and other basic requirements for keeping wild animals.

“It doesn’t mean to put animals in a lockup inside a small compound as they (animals) too need open space,” he said, adding that it could result in confrontation among animals when kept them in a small place.

The provincial assembly had passed the act in 2015 but the rules haven’t been framed.

Section 42 of the Act says that the government may allow establishment of zoo or zoological garden in private sector for keeping animals of indigenous or exotic species for the purpose of recreation etc.

A wildlife expert said the department did not have any mechanism to regulate zoo in the absence of rules and ‘provisional’ NOC for the zoo establishment was useless.

He said the department could at least issue possession licence to an individual for keeping animals.

The official said establishing zoo was very tricky job because it involved several international agreements and conventions for importing exotic animals.

He said the zoo owner would get permission for the procurement of animals and would identify the origin of wild species.

The official said Pakistan was a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and would get permission for importing and exporting wild animals.

He said African lion was an exotic animal and its owner should possess import licence.

The official said the department would determine health and safety guidelines for a zoo under the rules. The official said animals could react anytime and the department would define security and safety measures for zoos in both government and private sectors.

Mr Gul rejected the concerns of experts and some officials of the department, who opposed the establishment of the facility for wild species.

He said he had hired services of two senior veterinarians, who regularly carried out the checkup of his animals every month.

The resident said he had obtained a pistol to tranquillise an animal in case of emergency.

“I have domesticated a lion that always plays with my children,” he said adding that the department could generate revenue if it allowed the establishment of zoo in the private sector.

Mr Gul said the department charged.

Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2018