Remembering the royal graces and monarch-like demeanour of Lalu the tiger at Lahore Safari
By Rizwan Mehboob
Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined the devastation and agony that I would be living through in writing the obituary of my dear friend from Sunderban, Lalu – the lame Royal Bengal Tiger of Lahore Safari Park. Though lame by birth, Lalu, much like his illustrious historical counterpart, Taimur the lame, never allowed his infirmity of be ever taken for a free ride. Any instances of infringement to his royal decorum by his own species or safari visitors were swiftly and ferociously dealt with. Bleeding wounds in fellow tigers or tattered tyres in rowdy visitor’s vehicles were the typical outcomes that were liberally meted out as retribution for any untoward liberties with Lalu.
Lalu was brought to Lahore Zoo Safari around 2006 as a full grown tiger and since then had been paired with a number of tigresses. However, the only time he produced a progeny was with a tigress named Rozee acclaimed to be the finest and comeliest specimen of her species, ever brought to a zoo in Punjab. As a matter of fact, Rozee was the main cause for a string of blood curdling fights that involved Lalu and a few other tigers who shared the bushes of tiger safari with him in recent years. Lalu was a great believer in wisdom of nipping the evil in the bud. It was therefore no wonder that after an initial fight or two, each new male inmate of tiger safari thought it prudent to stay clear of harm’s way by leaving Rozee to Lalu.
My acquaintance with Lalu spanned several years during which my relationship with Lahore Zoo Safari and Lalu underwent major transformations. From an avid and common visitor to Safari Zoo, begging mercy of gatekeepers for an ever closer access to wild animals, to the privileged status of a senior functionary in Wild Life department hierarchy, I had seen Lalu in all possible moods and dispositions. However, what remained unchanged all through these years were the royal graces and monarch-like demeanour with which Lalu carried himself through good and bad times.
To be sure, like many other wild animals living in our zoos and safaris, bad times were actually far too many for Lalu. From vicious behaviour of visitors or not so uncommon apathy of animal keepers to the less than ideal living conditions in captivity, Lalu shared the usual plight faced by most of inmates of our zoos and safari parks. At times, shenanigans of finance department mandarins who had the audacity to apply economy cuts to a few million rupees worth feed charges of parakeets, hippos, big cats and other zoo animals on the same pedestal as hundreds of millions belonging to highways or building contractors, saw substantial reduction in 12 kg beef ration daily supply for Lalu. However, unlike many other captive animals, Lalu took these privations in a graceful manner, allowing fellow tigers a greater share of feed, displaying a noble restraint, fit for sovereigns. While taking away some steel muscles from his body, these acts of royal restraint only added to the stature of Lalu as rightful king of the Safari in the eyes of all and sundry.
Last winter season started ominously for Lalu as his favourite empress – Rozee, the tigress – had to be shifted to another zoo as part of a regular system of animal exchange, meant for discouraging inbreeding. Her place had been taken by ‘Poonam’ who was one of the most temperamental animals ever to be introduced in Safari. Poonam lost no time in pairing with another white tiger that Lalu had kept at bay during last several seasons. Emboldened by winning the new queen, the white Albino tiger – a huge animal of monumental proportions started challenging the suzerainty of Lalu every now and then. Like all twilight monarchs, Lalu could see the sun setting on the kingdom he had won through his blood and perpetual struggle over the years. Knowing by instinct the iron-cast inscriptions of law of jungle regarding kingship, Lalu braced for the epic fight that all of his predecessors had been through annals of evolution saga.
The end came early than Lalu might have expected. With closing of tiger mating season towards end of winter, everybody thought that Lalu had got a lease of life till next winter. But as much to Lalu’s bad luck as to the disbelief of many of his admirers, Poonam, the tigress sped him through his ruin. One late evening, when tigers usually start retiring to their night confines, Poonam unexpectedly came intimately closer to Lalu. That was like showing red rag to the white albino tiger who lost no time in pouncing upon Lalu. Even with his aging energies, Lalu did not go down without fighting as was clear from uprooted bushes and huge splinters of tree barks that were scattered all over the place. But what was remarkable was the fact that Lalu did not utter the slightest noise or sound, confining his great pains to his large heart. By dying a graceful death in some secluded bushes around midnight, Lalu proved his title as a “large-hearted gentleman” ascribed to tigers by legendry Jim Corbett during last century.
Next morning, safari keepers saw Lalu, who lorded the safari for several years, dead with fatal wounds to his neck and vertebrae. With a length of eight feet and five inches from head to tail and standing an impressive 3.5 feet high, Lalu was a great specimen of his specie. The displaced beast from Sunderbans had finally reached the happy hunting grounds to be united some day with his favourite queen, Rozee, the tigress. As to the Safari, it has got another royal coronation as a huge albino tiger roared his victory song alongside Poonam, the devious tigress.