Sufficiently chilly: a captive Siberian tiger in a cold climate.
When a Siberian tiger landed in the Pakistani city of Lahore last week, at the height of a sweltering summer, some worried that the blistering temperatures might prove too much for the rare animal.
But in the end the heat proved too much for its owners, the politically dominant Sharif family, who, after a round of lacerating media criticism, have offered to give the hapless tiger up.
The animal was flown in from Canada by Suleiman Sharif, a nephew of the opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif, who is known as the “Lion of Punjab”. The Pakistani government banned the import of big cats last February.
However, Sharif junior has got powerful connections: his father, Shahbaz, is chief minister of Punjab. So when the tiger landed at Lahore airport, it was welcomed by the chief minister’s private secretary, who whisked it through customs.
According to press reports, Suleiman planned to house the tiger in a chilled enclosure at the family’s private zoo on the Raiwind estate, on the outskirts of the city. A second tiger had been ordered from Canada.
The matter, when it hit the newspapers, prompted outrage, not so much because it highlighted the powerful dodging the law, which is nothing unusual in Pakistan, but due to the insensitivity of building a refrigerated room at a time when most Pakistanis are labouring under extensive electricity outages in roasting weather.
“It is hard to see the inhabitants of Siberia faring well in the heat and humidity of Lahore,” noted an acerbic editorial in The News, which demanded an official investigation. Its competitor, Dawn, queried: “Wouldn’t millions of Pakistanis … be outraged?”
And so the tiger had to go. Today, the World Wildlife Fund office said the Sharif family had offered to donate the politically problematic animal to charity. “They contacted our office to say they are ready to hand over the animal. It’s in their interest to give it up,” said the charity’s director for Pakistan, Ali Hassan Habib. “And so it should be. We want to use this opportunity to educate them.”
Habib said he would try to place the tiger with a suitable zoo in Lahore, otherwise the animal would be sent abroad. He said the affair raised questions about why the Canadian exporter agreed to deal with a private individual instead of a zoo.
Suleiman Sharif has not publicly commented. His uncle Nawaz, the most popular politician in Pakistan, according to polls, is in London, where his wife is receiving medical treatment.
A Sharif spokesman in Lahore said it was “entirely incorrect” that a chilled cage had been built, and added: “There is no tiger at the Raiwind farmhouse, I can guarantee you that.”