I read this article few weeks back: White Tigers: Conserving A Lie.
Reading it inspired me to write a short feature on my workplace blog. Decided to post it here so that I can share the story with more people :)
It's a little late to know the truth, but nevertheless, it is an important truth we all need to know and hopefully do something about.
White tigers are not a specific breed of tigers, but a product of a genetic anomaly called 'leucism', which prevents the pigment from coloring the skin and the fur. This causes a tiger to lose its natural camouflage abilities, which is why white tiger cubs rarely survive till adulthood in the wild. On top of that, the white tigers are also plagued with a host of health problems which includes scoliosis of the spine, cleft palates, and more often than not, their optical nerves are wired to the wrong side of the brain, causing them to be crosseyed or in some cases, their eyes would even be bulging out of their heads. Many are also either stillborn or do not survive infancy.
I obtained the chronology of the white Bengal tiger from Big Cat Rescue’s site.
A white tiger was displayed at Exeter Change.
White tiger cub captured by Maharajah Gulab Singh of Rewa. Upon its death it was gifted to King George V as a sign of India’s loyalty to the crown.
25th May 1951:
A forest laborer reported sighting a white tiger cub.
26th May 1951:
The cub’s mother and two of its three siblings were shot and killed.
27th May 1951:
Maharaja Martand Singh captured Mohan.
30th May 1951:
The cub escapes and a large party goes out to recapture it.
26th February 1952:
A normal colored tigress named Begum is captured.
10th April 1955:
Begum produced a litter of a male and two female cubs. All were orange, as were all the cubs in her subsequent two litters.
Mohan was mated with Radha, his four-year-old daughter from the second litter with Begum.
20th October 1958:
Radha produced an all-white litter of a male and three female cubs. They were christened Raja, Rani, Sukeshi and Mohini. Subsequently:The male and one female (Raja and Rani) were gifted to the National Zoological Gardens in New Delhi.Mohini was transported to Washington D.C.Sukeshi was kept for mating with Mohan and remained with him until he was withdrawn from breeding. She was then housed with her son in hopes they would breed but he showed no interest in mating with her and after six years without success she too was transferred to the National Zoological Gardens in New Delhi where she died on the 2nd February 1975.
Raja and Rani were mated. Rani gave birth to two white cubs, a male and a female. She mauled both and the female died. The male, ‘Tippu’ lost his tail and was hand-raised with great difficulty.
Two white cubs born to Rani. Both die due to neglect.
19th December 1965:
Three white cubs are born to Rani. They were left in her care for just over a month, at which point she lost interest and they were hand-raised. The female dies at the age of 17-months and one male dies on the 17th April 1967 during shipping to the United States.Breeding of Rani continued and she produced a total of 20 white cubs.
19th December 1969:
Mohan died aged 19 years 7 months. All captive white tigers descend from Mohan, which explains why they are so genetically inbred.
As you can see, Mohan is the ancestor and origin of all white tigers in captivity. Many zoos keep, breed and display white tigers for the sake of drawing crowds. Some even market it as a conservation effort, which is far from the truth because the species only exists due to a genetic anomaly. White tigers can never be released into the wild because they will not be able to survive without their camouflage abilities. And what about those cubs that were born the 'wrong colour' i.e. orange with black stripes; they are usually discarded and suffer from the same genetic defects too.
Being curious, because I did remember seeing white tigers at the Singapore Zoo long ago, I checked out their website. The white tiger exhibit is featured on their website. While they did mention Mohan, there is no further mention on the issue of inbreeding of white tigers, and I am not sure how the standpoint from which the zoo is exhibiting these tigers. Perhaps it’s time I visited the zoo again, or has someone been there recently and can provide feedback?