The “Sher” might have vanquished all the others in the May 11th elections, and the “Lion of the Punjab” might be all set to form the next government, but please, can we now retire this election symbol out of respect for these innocent, wild animals? I think they have been exploited enough already by a political party that doesn’t know the difference between a lion and a tiger and seems to have no respect for endangered species.
First of all, the PML (N)’s official election symbol (that appeared on the ballot paper) is that of a Bengal Tiger, which are NOT lions but tigers. The Bengal Tiger is an endangered species with fewer than 2,500 left in the wild (mostly in India, Bangladesh and Nepal). They are no longer found in the wild in our part of the subcontinent – the last known Bengal Tiger in Pakistan was shot dead in 1906 near Bahawalpur, according to British records.
You can, however, find them in zoos and some private facilities in the country where they are supposed to be used for educational purposes, and certainly not for political campaigning! The white tigress that was paraded during PML(N) rallies in Lahore in the run-up to the elections (and which allegedly died or mysteriously came back to life) had recessive gene mutation. The white tiger is a recessive mutant of the Bengal Tiger. Now that election fever has subsided and it is no longer a politicised issue, I decided to dig around and find out the truth behind the case of the missing white tigress – a story that had gone viral in the days leading up to May 11th. Was the white tigress used in PML(N)’s campaigns still alive and healthy? Or had she in fact passed away?
The white tigress first came to the public’s notice when she was brought to the University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences (UVAS) in Lahore on May 7th 2013. She was exhausted, and in fact severely dehydrated. In the last few days leading up to May 11th, the temperature in Lahore had reached 40 degrees Celsius and the young white tigress had been dragged to many of the PML(N) rallies, often being chained in the open back of a Vigo. The tigress belonged to the family of former PML(N) MNA, Mian Marghoob, who owns a large farm in Mehmood Booti in Lahore. In his compound are three other tigers – two are orange-coated Bengal tigers and there is one more white tigress, a large female called Sandy.
The white tigress at UVAS. -Photo provided by author.
UVAS has a pet center, an open facility where people can bring in their pets for treatment. The vets there diagnosed a more serious condition: pulmonary effusion (water in the lungs). They gave the white tigress intravenous therapy and noted that she looked seriously underfed, with a shrunken face. Since they could not keep her overnight, as they don’t have those kinds of facilities, after a few hours they sent her back to Mehmood Booti with her keepers. Later they were pressurised to say to the media that the tigress was not seriously ill but “in good health”, merely suffering from a cough. A photo, however, was taken of the listless white tigress lying on the floor while at UVAS. That was when word got out to the media that the tigress was very ill and weak, and probably dying. Journalists began calling up Mian Marghoob and his relatives, Mian Idris and Mian Zia, inquiring about the tigress. The owners of the tigress, panicking at the thought of a media trial focusing on the poor treatment of the tigress and the embarrassment of the PML(N) election symbol “dying” before May 11th, came up with their own strategy.
The white tigress that was brought into the pet facility at UVAS. -Photo provided by author
They invited the most well-known journalist who works for the BBC to visit Mehmood Bhooti and see for himself that the tigress was in fact alive. The journalist, who saw the older white tigress Sandy padding up and down in her concrete and mesh den reported that: “after seeing the tiger in its den, the BBC can confirm it is still alive. It is in fact in rude good health”. The BBC journalist had no idea that there were in fact TWO white tigresses owned by Mian Marghoob’s family and never asked to see the smaller one. He never asked to be taken to the facility in the back of the compound where the sick (and perhaps dead) tigress was being kept.
There is in fact, a simple way of verifying if the smaller white tigress is still alive and well. According to WWF Biodiversity Director Uzma Khan, “Every tiger has a different pattern of stripes on it, just like humans have different fingerprints, so if that tigress is still well and alive, why don’t they bring it over or send fresh pictures to the WWF?” She says she can identify the smaller tigress from a distinctive triangular mark on her left hind leg.
The stripe pattern analysis is actually enough to identify if she is indeed alive or dead. All that is needed is a recent picture to compare with the one that was taken at UVAS. The BBC took pictures of Sandy, the bigger tigress, and they can easily compare her stripes with the picture of the smaller white tigress at UVAS. This might be all the proof we have, since Mian Marghoob’s family is now saying that the smaller tigress will no longer come out to take part in rallies.