When Syed Hassan received videos from a friend who attended an influencer’s party on Saturday, he knew it would be wild, but he didn’t expect to see a lion stretched out on a sofa.
In the videos, obtained by VICE World News, a chained and seemingly sedate lion is seen being petted by the influencer Susan Khan while music thumped in the background.
“If you look at the paws of the lion, they are stubbed, meaning they were declawed,” Hassan, who has been rescuing animals for three years, told VICE World News. “I’ve seen people in Pakistan showing off wild cats in public and social media. I find it messed up that people get pleasure from seeing an animal that is shackled and sedated.”
Chaudhry Usama Wains, who runs a registered business of exotic and wild animals in Pakistan, told VICE World News that it’s illegal to rent out animals for private events, but some people do it anyway. “You will not find any legitimate renting agency. They’re all underground and very discreet,” he said.
VICE World News spoke to two attendees of the party, in the Pakistani city of Lahore, but they were unsure whether the lion was illegally rented by the organizer or brought in by a guest. In the videos, the lion is transported by a man in black clothes with white shoes, who is seen next to the lion throughout the party. Attendees said the lion didn’t leave his side.
On Monday, Hassan posted the videos on his Instagram and Change.org, in an online campaign calling on people to stop using wildlife as props.
A resident of Lahore invited to the party told VICE World News that the lion was not abused but wasn’t amused either. “Everyone was just sort of scared, I guess, but the majority of people really enjoyed it,” said the resident, who did not wish to use their name for privacy reasons. The resident added that they didn’t think anyone, including the influencer, did anything wrong.
Khan, the influencer, did not respond to repeated requests for comment since Monday. She has 83,000 followers on TikTok and 52,000 followers on Instagram. She posted videos with the lion on her Instagram Stories, which disappeared 24 hours after the party.
Wains, the registered animal seller, said that wild animals are widely seen as a symbol of wealth and power. “Lions are the king of the jungle, and the most popular among customers,” said Wains, who sells white and brown lions for $2,500 or more. “They also adapt to humans faster than other wild animals. Lastly, they’re very affordable for the rich.”
Wains’ price list ranges from $500 for meerkats or banded mongoose to $500,000 for a black rhino.
The Punjab province, of which Lahore is the capital, has over 200 official breeding farms for exotic animals, according to the government. But Wains said that most sellers of wild and exotic animals have no license.
“This is why cases of cruelty and abuse are rising,” he said. “Many customers have no experience or knowledge about wild animals. They just want to flaunt the animal and this so-called ‘thug life’.”
In Pakistan, videos and photos of wild animals in private home zoos, bedrooms, or being paraded in public go viral seemingly every other week. A popular TikTok video last month showed a chained lion being slapped and grabbed, stirring outrage. A leading political party has even featured live lions – the animal is their official mascot – in their election rallies.
On Tuesday, a prominent face on Pakistani social media, television actor Nadia Hussain Khan, was criticized for posting a family photo with a chained lion on Instagram.
Comments such as “Wild animals are not your decoration items” and “These are wild creatures, not your toys” flooded her post.
In 2017, a man was arrested for causing panic after he drove his pet lion through the streets of Karachi.
The Lahore High Court is considering a petition challenging the law that allows ownership of wild animals.
“People don’t know the difference between abuse and care,” said Hassan, the animal rescuer. “We have obsolete laws for the welfare of animals. Once people get a license – legally or through bribes – you can do whatever you want.”
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