White tigers may look good. But because of inbreeding they are born with a lot of birth defects like curved spine, cleft palates and other immune deficiences.

There have been lots of requests for more tiger tales, so here is the curious case of the white tiger. One young lady wrote to me saying she saw “some adorable white tiger cubs” at a zoo recently.

Who are these white tigers? Well, they are just an oddity in nature's scheme of things. A mutant gene found in a tiger long ago, when tigers were aplenty in our Indian jungles. A couple of centuries ago, white tigers were said to be found in the forests of Assam, Bengal, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh.

Tracing back

All the white tigers you see are only in zoos all over the world. In India , there may a hundred in all. Do you know all these tigers have one common ancestor? And that is Mr Mohan.

Mohan was the unfortunate tiger cub Maharaja Martand Singh of Rewa trapped and caught in Bandhavgarh while on a hunting expedition in 1951. Bandhavgarh was then the hunting reserve of the Maharajas of Rewa. According to jungle lore Bandhavgarh those days had some white tigers and the Maharaja's father had in 1915, caught a two-year old white tiger cub and reared it in his palace. When that tiger died five years later it was stuffed and sent to King George V as a gift. But Maharaja Martand Singh was a more ambitious man. He tried to breed Mohan with regular orange tigresses in hope of producing white cubs. Most of it ended in failure but just the year before Mohan's death, a litter of four cubs was born, all white. All the white tigers you see in the zoos around the world are descendants of Mohan.

White tigers are slightly larger than us regular Bengal tigers but they are a lot less slow. In any case, life in the wild would have been difficult for them as their colour would have given them away to potential prey. You know our orange and black combo is perfect camouflage in the jungles. If tigers were meant to be white they should have had a home in the Himalayas or some such snow- clad place.

White tigers have ice blue eyes and black stripes with pink noses and paw pads. All of it makes for good-looking cubs, which is why they are a major attraction in the zoos.

But behind all that cuteness are some tragic facts. For instance, all white tigers are cross-eyed. This may or may not be obvious when you see them. It's because the gene which gives them the white colour also causes their optic nerves to be wired on the wrong side of the brain. Since all white tigers are products of inbreeding, they are born with a lot of birth defects like curved spine, cleft palates and other immune deficiencies. As a result of all this, white tigers don't live long either. Of course no one wants to talk about the bad things, do they?

There are talks of setting up a “breeding centre” for white tigers in Rewa with government blessings. All in the name of conservation. Now that you know the story of the white tiger do you think these guys are saving the tiger? Grrr…gimme a break.

Mail tosherook@wildmail.com

A Children for Nature and Animals Unlimited ( CANU) Initiative

RELATED NEWS

White Bengal tiger enigma solvedMay 24, 2013