This week, surprised drivers found themselves sharing their lane with two ostriches in the Pakistani city Lahore.
Traffic on the city’s main artery, the scenic eight-laned Canal Road, moved to the side on Monday, to make room for the feathered pair running at their usual speed of 45 miles per hour.
Later, a group of men ran after one of the birds in an attempt to save it from being hit by a car. After a long chase, the bird was caught and tied up, local media reported. A local video broadcast showed the group trying to prevent the bird from running away, with one man holding the ostrich by its neck.
That grip proved fatal – the bird was choked to death. It is unclear what happened to the second ostrich.
Many locals suspected that the birds might have escaped from an ostrich farm in Lahore’s outskirts. The farms produce exotic meat and eggs that cater to high-end customers in the country. However, Ghulam Abbas, an assistant professor at the Riphah College of Veterinary Sciences in Lahore, said the birds were most probably kept as pets.
“Almost 80 percent of the ostrich farms in the country have been shut down now due to the lack of funds and support from the government. Their meat and eggs are also very pricey,” Abbas said.
Ostriches are not native to Pakistan. They are a common delicacy in Africa, Australia and the United Arab Emirates, and the industry for these flightless birds was introduced to Pakistan in 2016.
Back then, the government offered a $58 subsidy per ostrich to farms with over 10,000 ostriches. Initially, the number of ostrich farms shot up, going from 60 to 400 in a short time, leading many to call it an “untapped gold mine.”
However, in 2018, the subsidy programme expired. Many farmers chose to close shop.
“Since then, there were 3–4 large farms that remained open in Lahore,” Abbas, who often works with the farms, told VICE World News. “But by now, almost all those farmers have shut down. Now, there are only people who own ostriches as pets or for amusement.”
During the industry’s heyday, Abbas established a hatchery for ostrich chicks.
“Apart from the funding problems, importing was expensive. Despite the demand for the meat, the prices were too high, so people naturally opted for alternatives,” he said.
At present, a kilogram of ostrich meat is sold for $8.75, while a kilogram of beef is sold at $2.33 in the country.
Chaudry Usama Wains, who runs a registered business that deals in exotic and wild animals in Pakistan, told VICE World News that a breeding pair of ostriches would cost approximately $525 to $620. Meanwhile, a pet ostrich could be bought for around $40 to $50.
Regardless of the purpose for keeping these animals, Wains said the biggest problem is that people do not know how to care for ostriches – even at the farms.
“Our government did not tell those interested in farming how to keep the ostriches, and what kind of temperature is required,” he said. “People kept ostriches in very dirty places. They weren’t vaccinated, and they weren’t given proper food. Most of these ostriches lost the ability to walk properly due to a lack of calcium.”
Wains blames the government for the collapse of the industry and the depressing conditions the birds and their owners now find themselves in. Like Abbas, he suspects that the ostrich pair spotted navigating Lahore traffic were likely pets that had escaped their terrible living conditions.
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