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Pakistan’s most famous tiger still roaring

Tiger blog
A supporter of Nawaz Sharif chants slogans during an election campaign rally in Punjab province during last week's election campaign. The tiger is the election symbol of PML-N. Picture taken May 4.  (Reuters/Mani Rana )

Hold that tiger obit.

The tiger that campaigned for Pakistan poll winner Nawaz Sharif – whose party mascot is also a tiger – was rumoured to have died of its exertions in the sizzling heat of Lahore.

But after the story went viral on the Internet  BBC reporter Owen Bennett-Jones confirmed that it is alive and in “rude good health,” as is the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, which won the majority of seats in the weekend election.

And unlike many voters in electrically-challenged and impoverished Pakistan, where the average wage is $1,200 a month -- and many earn much less -- the toothy beast lives in an air-conditioned den.

“It’s my baby,” said indignant owner Idrees Ahmed, a Sharif supporter who took the tiger to campaign rallies, where it was showered with rose petals as it reclined on the hood of a moving car. “If someone told you your baby had died how would you feel?”

The World Wide Fund for Nature, which defends endangered species, earlier challenged Ahmed to prove the white tigress, named Sandy, was still alive.

It followed reports that a tiger had been brought “unconscious” to a university veterinary department. Local TV news channels reported that it had died of dehydration. Actress Faryal Gohar planned to petition the Lahore High Court against the illegal use of animals at election rallies. Sharif's daughter, Maryam Nawaz, tweeted that the reports were "lies." 

Confusion continued when the owner of the "dead" tiger was named as Ahmed Ali, not Idrees Ahmed -- raising questions about the reports and the tiger's fate.

The media sensation made Sandy the most popular party animal in Pakistan during a particularly bloody election campaign that saw more than 100 people die in militant bombings.

Tiger images were hoisted by crowds, cuddly tiger toys were sold in shops and stands, and fluffy stuffed tigers were propped on car hoods as a sign of solidarity with Sharif. Enthusiasts even had tigers painted on their faces.

In spite of the violence, and complaints of vote rigging, the election was a roaring success. At least for Sandy, who has retired from politics and won't have to form a government, or fight tooth and claw with political foes.

Olivia Ward has covered politics, human rights and conflicts from the former Soviet Union to South Asia, winning national and international awards.


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