Posted on 17 February 2023
Islamabad, 17 February 2023: The recent escape and dramatic capture of a common leopard in a residential area in Islamabad is a stark reminder of the urgent need for effective wildlife conservation and management efforts in Pakistan. The leopard is a protected species and keeping it in private ownership is already illegal. WWF-Pakistan strongly condemns the practice of keeping wild animals such as leopards and other big cats as pets, and also demands an investigation to identify the source of acquisition of this leopard as well as strict action against the owner.
WWF-Pakistan is concerned only with the conservation of endangered species and endorses the implementation of the Guidelines of Acquisition and Management of Big Cats in Captivity which were approved by the Ministry of Climate Change as part of the CITES Management Authority in 2011. These guidelines prohibit keeping big cats and taking big cats to public places in a cage or on a leash.
Leopards are apex predators and play an essential role in maintaining the ecological balance in their natural ecosystem. They are meant to roam freely in the wilderness and not be confined to small spaces or kept as domesticated animals. Keeping wild animals in captivity not only causes immense physical and psychological stress to the animals but also poses a significant risk to human safety.
WWF calls for strict laws to be implemented against the illegal trade of wild animals and the practice of keeping them as pets. There is a need for the introduction of new laws in the country that prohibit the keeping of wild animals such as tigers and lions as pets, which also drives illegal wildlife trade.
WWF believes that everyone has a role to play in the conservation of wildlife, and we encourage all citizens to report any instances of wildlife trade to concerned authorities while also demanding for more robust laws that protect animals from illegal trade and trafficking. Presently, not all the existing provincial wildlife protection acts offer legal protection to exotic wildlife species which is a major limitation towards regulating and monitoring their trade.
Despite the huge scale of trade of big cats in Pakistan, the country still lacks established mechanisms for monitoring the scale and scope of their trade and their captive management, including carcass disposal and ownership when specimens expire in private facilities.
WWF-Pakistan has previously flagged several cases of big cats kept in residential areas and their open displays in public places. The organization urges the consideration of following a SAFE System approach to address this issue at a holistic level which integrates the safety of humans and their assets, wildlife, habitats and ecosystems, while assessing and addressing key conservation threats, as well as gaps in legislative and policy frameworks.
Provincial wildlife departments need to establish a separate cell for animal handling and rescuing on an urgent basis and build the capacity of field staff involved in the rescue and release of wild animals, which has previously not been adequately incorporated into the existing wildlife management systems. Simultaneously, coordination and harmonization of efforts of different departments is also critical to handle such issues better in future - this will help in countering misinformation and unwanted panic in the future.