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The mysterious case of the white tigress

Updated May 17, 2013 02:49pm


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enter image description hereThe “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.

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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.

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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.

But perhaps the bigger issue is not whether she is still alive or dead, but that the tigers at Mehmood Booti and other wild animals used during PML(N) campaigns – there were 3 lions on a truck on MM Alam road during a victory rally just a few days ago – are kept in poor conditions, paraded around and probably drugged during rallies. The lions on MM Alam road were being goaded to roar by sticks during the victory rally. “These are not domestic animals, they are wild animals with wild instincts and they cannot cope with all the loud sounds and mistreatment at rallies”, explains Uzma Khan.

She points out that under the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) guidelines on the “Acquisition and Management of Big Cats in Captivity” which were approved by the Ministry of Climate Change in 2011, it is prohibited to take big cats to public places in a cage or a leash. She adds, “CITES says in order to import a big cat you have to ensure proper care”. Wildlife farms that have licenses for keeping and breeding wildlife have to be monitored carefully by wildlife officials who should visit the facility regularly to ensure that it is up to the mark. “Captive animals are supposed to be used for public education, so that people can learn about conservation”.

They are certainly not supposed to be used for campaigning purposes, and it is really pathetic that they are being used as an election symbol to make some of our political leaders look more fierce and aggressive. In disgust, the activist and animal lover, Feryal Gauhar filed a writ petition in the Lahore High Court last week seeking to uphold the CITES guidelines. The court has called WWF-Pakistan to appear as an expert organisation, along with other organisations like the Punjab Wildlife Department. The first hearing has taken place already and the next hearing will take place at the Green Bench in Lahore headed by Justice Mansoor Ali Shah tomorrow. The complainant would like to see a ban on displaying big cats in rallies and improvements in private facility inspections. The Election Commission of Pakistan will be called as well since they are the ones who agreed to awarding the “sher” as an election symbol in the first place.

If our newly elected political leaders really want to prove that they are wiser and more civilized this time around they should stop their followers from abusing these wild animals.


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The writer is an award-winning environmental journalist based in Islamabad, who also covers climate change and health issues.

She can be reached at

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (41) Closed

FR May 16, 2013 05:21am
Thank you so much for posting this brilliant piece of investigative writing. I pray that at least the educated creme of PML-N supporters can rise above their party affiliations and condemn this and exercise some power in their party to stop this. if they are quick to condemn the peaceful demonstrations taking place against rigging, they should also see the evil celebrations their party workers are engaging in.
Pakistani May 16, 2013 11:25pm
They should have a monkey as an election symbol & parade that instead. I am sure both the monkey & the supporters will get entertained.
Umer May 15, 2013 02:35pm
Rina nice effort of awareness and concern you have shown, as a supporter of PMLN I do not agree the change of symbol idea but totally agree that as a symbol of their election campaign PMLN should not use live animal but only use stuffed toys and must avoid bringing live animal into rallies or public places. I would request to our courts to ban these displays. Since I heard this bad news I was so sad about the demise of endangered species from last few days. I don
sabiha May 17, 2013 09:43am
In Urdu tiger is Cheeta and lion is sher.
Maryam May 16, 2013 04:42am
I totally agree with you and appreciate your concern . but this "by a political party that doesn
Vishnu Dutta May 15, 2013 06:31pm
Entire world should stop selling tigers to any one in Pakistan. Thats not the way you treat an animal. No wonder in the land which was once roamed by tigers now has none. Even if they survived the british raj they would have been hunted down by the vaderas of Pakistan.
Parvez May 15, 2013 06:36pm
Those who have no respect for animals, how does one expect them to have any respect for humans........normally such people respect money and power.
concerned May 16, 2013 04:45am
it is a shame that the are treating poor animal in this way. The person who is keeping endangered animals should be tried in the courts and should be arrested.
zia khan May 15, 2013 06:57pm
Paper Lions should display paper lions not real ones..
Ali Turab Gilani (@tGilani) May 17, 2013 08:40am
silly boy, Sher & Babbar sher are the same, only age difference.. grow up kiddo
Animallover May 17, 2013 11:27am
u are moveing away from the topic
El Cid May 16, 2013 10:24pm
Nawaz Sharif should now be charged with animal cruelty, endangerment of a protected rare species along with the obvious election fraud and rigging charge.
Onkar Sharma May 15, 2013 05:47pm
RSK said it all -- whatever I had been thinking on the issue over the last few days. Brilliant job!
rh May 15, 2013 08:48pm
thats you all found "note-worthy" in this article? tiger=sher?? Pitiful!!! what about the abuse of an animal, deceitful tactics and more shameless abuse of more animals???
Jabeen Akhtar (@jabeen_akhtar) May 15, 2013 02:47pm
Thank you for posting this highly informative article. You seem to be the only journalist doing her job around here by actually investigating and telling us what is going on. Hopefully this will encourage Pakistan's politicians to not abuse animals in their campaigns anymore--a despicable practice.
Ali May 16, 2013 03:55pm
Vishnu Tigers should not be sold to anyone, let alone Pakistan.
El Cid May 16, 2013 10:32pm
Mutation is not manipulation. Mutation is rare. And white tigers, Siberian White Tiger, do reproduce. They are the most powerful of all tigers built for hunting the frozen tundra. To expose them to equatorial heat is extreme cruelty and cries out for punishment by international wild life agencies.
FR May 17, 2013 05:07am
Then tell me why does PML-N go around taking lions (babar shers) to rallies and have lion stuff toys. Why does nawaz sharif have two stuff lions in his palace? they are confused and they have confused the masses.
farmerdr May 15, 2013 04:25pm
A tiger IS a sher. Lions are bubbar or babary shers.
Azeez May 17, 2013 04:32am
dear Ayesha , the writer talk about Royal Bengal Tiger not white Tiger .she knows white tiger is not a seperate species
Caz May 16, 2013 12:18pm
What can you expect for animals from a miscreated country which treats its unwashed masses like animals
shami May 16, 2013 08:38pm
Pathetic!! No where in the world are the wild animals being used for Election compaigning. It happens only in Pakistan due to ignorance of people. Very Shameful!
Talha May 16, 2013 02:36am
If given a chance, I would use a "STICK" on those patwaris to make them roar. Only then they will feel the suffering.
Imran Khan May 17, 2013 06:21am
why isnt dawn news telling the people of Pakistan the truth? they just want to make up false stories to get publicity. Its shameful to see how a Pakistani news channel can do that to there own people. this shows how much they lie to our society about many other news article. If they want to write articles, they should learn from BBC, or even get the right news to tell. Lying will get them no where. Pakistani image is already bad to the world, we should stop this nonsense and should tell the people of Pakistan the truth. These tigers are well kept and healthy, get real news.
Awais May 16, 2013 04:12am
get a life man
Abbasi May 16, 2013 04:16pm
Nobody is within PMLn is condemning this action because there is no visionary and educated followers of PMLn.
Ayesha May 16, 2013 08:12am
I think the writer needs to do her homework. White tiger is not an endangered species. It is really not a separate species. The cannot reproduce. They are a result of a mutated gene and are produced by gene manipulation. There is already a move worldwide to stop production of white tigers because it is considered immoral to mutate a gene and produce white tigers just for profit.
saad khan May 16, 2013 07:51am
you did so much research on the PMLN, the Tiger, its patterns, stripes, habits yet you failed to identify the most basic reason PMLN uses a tiger and not a lion. In urdu a tiger is referred to as a "Sher" and a Lion is referred to as a "Babar Sher" hence PMLN is really not confused but it is infact you.
A sincere Pakistani May 16, 2013 07:08am
Thank you for this informative article on the endagered species. We must protect and respect them but there is no need to take this symbol out of the list of election symbols. However, bringing live tigers to public gatherings or exposing them to unfriendly circumstances should be strictly banned. No politics on this good casue of protecting the endangered species.
Animallover May 16, 2013 01:10pm
the leadership should be put in chains & roamed around just like the poor tiger.
nomz May 16, 2013 06:29am
no they aint. plz learn urdu
Aisha Rishi May 15, 2013 03:46pm
Great report. I really hope that such brutality is put an end to. We see enough abuse around us. It affects people negatively.
Zaheer May 15, 2013 03:46pm
Good investigatory work done Rina Saeed. Just shows we need to be equally humane to animals also - they are God sent too. I noticed while visiting a Zoo in Dubai, the lions (tigers ?) looked emaciated in the heat even though they had sun shades. It is a shame to keep animals captive in zoos for the sake of display for the public. Even then, pity humans are unable to provide a good natural habitat for them in their captivity let alone parade them as party mascots in the polluted environment and heat.
Dubya Esss May 16, 2013 06:00am
Yes...but whoever translated "Sher-e-Punjab" to "Lion of the Punjab" made an error. Or we could just stop being so nit picky and take it as "literary license" of sorts. Maybe someone just thought Lion of the Punjab sounds better than Tiger of the Punjab.
Maliha May 16, 2013 02:09pm
I think you missed the point of the article. Please re-read.
Khan May 15, 2013 03:18pm
The evidence is available, arrest Mian Marghoob. People need to do another dharna demanding his arrest.
Atif Ehsan May 15, 2013 01:00pm
Great report...finally some clear picture... Hopefully PML N can show some sense in this matter in future
awakening May 15, 2013 01:00pm
Tiger or lion abused and killed human behaving like animals
HM, Canada May 16, 2013 08:42pm
Best reply....
Amjad Wyne May 15, 2013 05:04pm
A good suggestion but retiring a symbol is not going to change the lot of poor animals. The key is "accountability" and the nation - from top to bottom - is unfamiliar with that concept.
ROSHAN SHARMA May 16, 2013 11:37am
I am really surprised that people are focusing on LIon or Tiger and loosing the soul of the article which is about mis-treatment of an animal and too which quite endangered. How can you drag Lion or Tiger to your political rallies one after another just for the sake of your self...I am happy that Media has taken up this matter seriously followed by Pak court who asked for necessary actions...Such a lovely animal in poor hands...SHAME!!