Pic by Mohan Pai
White Tigers continue to bring thousands of fascinated visitors to zoos across the world. But wildlife biologists are against breeding white tigers because they have no conservation value and feel that freaks should not be allowed.
White tigers are not albinos as thought once, though there are records of albinos among tigers. In 1922, two were shot in Cooch Behar and the pink eyes confirmed them as true albinos. In the white tigers, the black stripes are clearly visible and the eyes are blue, unlike in an albino. When a male and female tiger carrying mutant recessive gene mate, then white cubs are born. This is how two normal coloured orange tigers could bring forth a white offspring.It was through the royal family of Rewa (MP) that white tigers received notice at the national and international level. In 1951, while on a shoot, the royal party saw a tigress with four cubs, one of whom was white. The mother was shot and the white cub, a male, trapped. He was named Mohan and housed in Govindgarh, an unused guest house near Rewa. When Mohan grew up into an adult, he mated with a normal tigeress and produced three litters, all of normal (orange) colouring. A few years later, Mohan mated with one of these cubs and four white cubs were born and they in turn began multiplying. This was the beginning of the breeding of white tigers.From the Rewa white tigers fifty-eight litters were raised, out of which 114 cubs were white and fifty-six of normal colour. Mohan, the sire of all these litters, died in 1970 at the age of twenty and lies buried at Govingarh. The lineage of most of the white tigers in the various zoos in India and across the world, can be traced to Mohan.
Currently, several hundred white tigers are in captivity worldwide with about 100 of them in India, and their numbers are on the increase. The modern population includes both pure Bengals and hybrid Bengal–Siberians, but it is unclear whether the recessive gene for white came only from Bengals, or from any of the Siberian ancestors as well.The unusual coloration of white tigers has made them popular in zoos and entertainment that showcases exotic animals. The magicians Siegfried & Roy are famous for having bred and trained white tigers for their performances, referring to them as "royal white tigers" perhaps from the white tiger's association with the Maharaja of Rewa.
White Tigers In The Wild
An article appeared in the Miscellaneous Notes of the Journal Of The Bombay Natural History Society on Nov. 15, 1909 which reported that a white tigress was shot in the Mulin Sub-Division Forest of the Dhenkanal State in Orissa. The report originally appeared in the Indian Forester in May 1909, and was made by Mr. Bavis Singh, Forest Officer. The ground colour of the white tigress was described as pure white and the stripes as deep reddish black. It was shot over a buffalo kill and "was in good condition not showing any signs of disease." Col. F.T. Pollock wrote in Wild Sports of Burma and Assam, "Occasionally white tigers are met with. I saw a magnificent skin of one at Edwin Wards in Wimpole Street, and Mr. Shadwall, Assistant Commissioner in Cossyah and Jynteah hills, also has two skins quite white." Mr. Lydekker wrote in Game Animals of India (1907) about five more white tiger skins: "A white tiger was exhibited alive at Exeter Change about 1820; a second was killed in Poona about 1892; in March 1899 a white tiger was shot in Upper Assam and the skin sent to Calcutta, where a fourth specimen was received about the same time. The Maharaja of Kuch-Behar also possesses a white tiger-skin." (The white tiger exhibited at Exeter Change in London in 1820 was the first white tiger in Europe.)S.H. Prater wrote in The book of Indian Animals (1948) that "White or partially white tigers are not uncommon in some of the dry open jungles of central India." It is a myth that white tigers did not thrive in the wild. India planned to reintroduce captive-bred white tigers to the wild to a special reserve near Rewa. In the wild white tigers reproduced and bred white for generations. A.A. Dunbar wrote in Wild Animals Of Central India (1923) that "White tigers occasionally occur. There is a regular breed of these animals in the neighborhood of Amarkantak at the junction of the Rewa state and the Mandla and Bilaspur districts. When I was last in Mandla in 1919, a white tigress and two three parts grown white cubs existed. In 1915 a male was trapped by the Rewa state and confined. There is ample evidence that white tigers survived as adults in the wild. Jim Corbett filmed a white tigress in the wild which had two orange cubs. This film footage was used in the 1984 National Geographic movie Man Eaters Of India, which is based on Jim Corbett's 1957 book by the same title. This is further proof that white tigers survived and reproduced in the wild. The website of the Bandhavgarh National Park, in the former princely state of Rewa, in Madhya Pradesh, features pictures of white tigers, and states "The forests of Bandhavgarh are the white tiger jungles of yesteryears." Today there are 46 to 52 orange tigers living in Bandhavgarh, the largest population of tigers in any national park in India.
White Tigers - A Big Attraction
The first white tiger to leave India was Mohini, sired by Mohan Of Rewa.Mohini was bought by the German-American billionaire John Kluge for $10,000, for the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, as a gift to the children of America, in 1960. White tigers began receiving world-wide attention. A few years later, Dalip, a white tiger from Delhi zoo was exhibited at the Expo-70 at Osaka and later at Budapest. At both the exhibitions, he was a major draw. In India quite a few zoos began breeding white tigers and of these, the zoo at Delhi has been the most successful.
The story of white tigers took a dramatic turn in 1980. At Nandankanan Zoological Park in Orissa, a pair of normal coloured tigers gave birth to a litter of three white cubs, a textbook example of the recessive mutant gene. This pair at Nandankanan went to produce more white cubs.
Mutant should not be bred
In the 1980s, wildlife biologists were making great strides in research and they did not approve of breeding white tigers. There argument was simple - a mutant should not be bred. Their stand was vindicated data from all the zoos breeding white tigers. It was clear, they argued, that white tigers are not as healthy as their normal coloured counterpart and they are prone to diseases as their immunological system is weak. They need double doses of vaccine and often have congenital defects. Moreover, competition among the zoos to breed white tigers resulted in much inbreeding and the future generations of white tigers would be even more problem ridden.
In fact the recent trend in the zoological parks of the United States, where there are fifty white tigers, is to phase them out.
Ullas Karanth, wildlife biologist at Mysore, also takes a dim view of the proceedings. He says that white tigers have no conservation value and that freaks should not be allowed to multiply. If this viewpoint is taken seriously the white tiger era may come to an end in a few decades.
Pic by Mohan Pai
References:The Dance of the Saurus (Chapter 31) by Theodore Baskaran, Wikipedia.