Pakistan's foxy lady: Half-human, half-fox creature enthrals visitors to Karachi zoo with wit and fortune telling
- Mumtaz Begum has been an attraction at Karachi Zoo for 40 years
- She tells visitors their future as well as entertaining them with jokes
- The role of the creature is played by 33-year-old father-of-two Murad Ali
Alongside Karachi Zoo's enclosures for elephants and deer, hidden behind a curtain in an ornate pavilion, there is a creature the likes of which you won't find in the wild.
It is the home of Mumtaz Begum - a mythical half-fox, half-woman chimera - who has been the zoo's top attraction for generations.
From her languid repose inside a specially designed bed, she delights visitors on their days out to the zoo, in Pakistan's commercial capital, with her wit and wisdom.
'Life is very short; it should be spent spreading smiles': The wit and wisdom of Mumtaz Begum at Karachi Zoo
'The people, who visit here, go away happy. And knowing that they feel happy makes me happy too,' Mumtaz told Reuters.
'There is a bond of love between me and them. Life is very short; it should be spent spreading smiles.'
In addition to witty conversation, Mumtaz is also known as a fortune-teller.
Students come to her with questions about their examination results, while concerned mothers consult her about their daughters' prospects for marriage.
'I feel very good. I had a nice talk with her. I am really happy. I'm happy I came here,' said sixth grade student Mohammad Osama after meeting Mumtaz.
For older people, Mumtaz takes them back to memories of their own from childhood encounters with the creature.
'I saw it during my childhood about 40 or 45 years ago. Mumtaz Mahal had arrived in Clifton (in a circus),' said labourer Mohammad Ismail.
'Today I have come here along with my grand children. I really enjoyed it. It is good and has improved. I liked it more than in the past.'
Murad Ali, 33, is the man behind Mumtaz. He dresses as the woman with the body of a fox and gets into character for up to 12 hours a day.
The father of two inherited the role from his father who died 16 years ago.
Mohammad Fahim Khan, the zoo's director, says Mumtaz became a permanent exhibit after a few people from a circus offered to set up the attraction there 40 years ago.
She has always been played by men because they are able to respond better to those who harass her, says Mr Khan.
Visitors gawp at Mumtaz: A teller of fortunes, students come to her with questions about their examination results, while concerned mothers consult her about their daughters' prospects for marriage
Mr Khan said those who go under the veil and become Mumtaz are chosen for their talents, particularly how many local languages they can speak and how well they can act.
'Women and children especially are keenly interested in this character. They come here; they watch her and talk to her. This is an art. He is like an actor who plays this role and entertains the people,' said Mr Khan.
A ticket to see Mumtaz costs just Rs10 (0.10 U.S dollar) but the show still manages pay Mr Ali and couple of helpers, as well as turn a profit.