The Royal White Tiger is one of the most valuable conservation tools that zoos and theme parks have in their education arsenal on the visitor level today. Very simply put, the White Tiger attracts attention of the zoo visitor. Without the attention of the common visitor, you could have the best conservation program in the world, but it will do no good unless you have the "attention".
In today's conservation battles, zoos and theme parks have to compete with a huge aray of entertainment and modern technology in today's world just to be able to get the attention of the average zoo visitor. But one thing that has not changed over the years, and still is very much able to get the attention of zoo visitors is the White Tiger.
White Tiger (Panthera tigris) is a tiger with a genetic condition that nearly eliminates pigment in the normally orange fur although they still have dark stripes. This occurs when a tiger inherits two copies of the recessive gene for the paler coloration: pink nose, grey-mottled skin, ice-blue eyes, and white to cream-colored fur with black, grey, or chocolate-colored stripes. (Another genetic condition also makes the stripes of the tiger very pale; white tigers of this type are called snow-white.) White tigers do not constitute a separate subspecies of their own and can breed with orange ones, although all of the resulting offspring will be heterozygous for the recessive white gene, and their fur will be orange. The only exception would be if the orange parent was itself already a heterozygous tiger, which would give each cub a 50% chance of being either double-recessive white or heterozygous orange. This is not inbreeding [i2]
Compared to orange tigers without the white gene, white tigers, at times, can be larger both at birth and at full adult size. This may have given them an advantage in the wild despite their unusual coloration. Heterozygous orange tigers also tend to be larger than other orange tigers. Kailash Sankhala, the director of the New Delhi Zoo in the 1960s, suggested that "one of the functions of the white gene may have been to keep a size gene in the population, in case it's ever needed."
Dark-striped white individuals are well-documented in the Bengal Tiger subspecies (Panthera
tigris tigris or P. t. bengalensis), may also have occurred in captive Siberian Tigers (Panthera tigris altaica), and may have been reported historically in several other subspecies. White pelage is most closely associated with the Bengal, or Indian subspecies. 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, as well as the AZA accredited Cincinnati Zoo, referring to them as "royal white tigers" from the white tiger's association with the Maharaja of Rewa, which is considered royalty.
It is a myth that white tigers did not thrive in the wild, where small groups had bred white for generations. India once planned to reintroduce them to the wild. A.A. Dunbar Brander wrote in "Wild Animals In Central India" (1923): "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 kept in confinement. An excellent description of this animal by Mr. Scott of the Indian police, has been published in Vol. XXVII, No. 47, of the Bombay Natural History Society's journal."
However, most white tigers back in the early years bred in captivity, often by inbreeding parents and cubs to ensure the presence of the recessive gene. This was done out of sure desperation that the white gene may had already been lost. Today, advancing many decades, the inbreeding practice is all but gone. With today's scientific advancement such as DNA typing and testing and a massive assortment of testing, zoo's are able to search for a white gene carrier who has no relation to its intended breeding partner. Thus is why we so many health white tigers today.
How is the White Tiger assisting in wildlife conservation?
"The answer is simple. You justify white tigers in exactly the same way you justify traveling giant pandas, koalas and other high visible animals which, through the ability to catch the public fancy, significantly enhances public support and therefore the financial well-being of your institution, [zoo's that exhibit white tigers] see results that are readily measurable in increased revenues.
The bottom line realities of life are that long-term conservation appropriation programs are accomplished only with the stable financial and public support. Institutional survival and species survival may be as tightly linked as any to genetic traits." [Dr. Lee G. Simmons - White Tigers: The Realities, p389 Tigers of the World: the biology, biopolitics, management and conservation. Tilson/Ulysses] In addition, the breeding program that Dr. Simmons first developed for the white tiger was the foundation start for today’s AZA Species Survival Program.
There has been an 8% increase in white tigers within AZA zoo's in the last 20 months in 2011-2013.
Did the white tiger lay the ground work for the birth of the AZA's Species Survival Plan ?
It would seem so. Interesting enough, in 1978, Henry Doorly Zoo received "Ranjit", the son of "Kesari" and "Ramana". Dr. Lee Simmons was in charge of the tiger-breeding program. He was a leader who was influential in his field and located expertise on all levels of species management to bring them together for the betterment of conservation. This was before the creation of the first Species Survival Plan and it was this collaboration among professionals that aided Dr. Seal to develop the concept of the SSP adopted by AZA zoos today.[4a]
Captive White Bengal Tiger Founders - The Captive Blood Line/History
Mohan is the founding father of the white tigers of Rewa. He was captured as a cub in 1951 by Maharaja Shri Martand Singh of Rewa, whose hunting party in Bandhavgarh found a tigress with four 9-month-old cubs, one of which was white. All of them were shot except for the white cub. The Maharaja of Rewa offered his guest, the Maharaja Ajit Singh of Jodhpur, the honor of shooting the white cub, but he declined. After shooting a white tiger in 1948 the Maharaja of Rewa had resolved to capture one, as his father had done in 1915, at his next opportunity. Water was used to lure the thirsty cub into a cage, after he returned to a kill made by his mother, and once captured he was housed in the unused palace at Govindgarh in the erstwhile harem courtyard. The white cub mauled a man during the capture process and was clubbed on the head and knocked unconscious. He wasn't necessarily expected to wake up and this was his second brush with death. The Maharaja named him Mohan, which roughly translates as "Enchanter", one of the many forms of the Hindu deity Krishna. The white tiger the previous Maharaja had kept in captivity from 1915 to 1920 was also a male, unusually large like most white tigers (Mohan was no exception in this regard), and was known to have a white male sibling that continued to live in the wild. After it's death in 1920 it was mounted and presented to the Emperor King George V, as a token of loyalty. This specimen is now in the British Museum, although it was not the first white tiger to reach England: in 1820, London's Exeter Change menagerie had a white tiger which was examined by the famous French anatomist Georges Cuvier, who described it in his "Animal Kingdom" as having faint stripes only visible from certain angles of refraction. In 1960 there was a mounted white tiger, with faint reddish brown stripes, in the throne room of the Maharaja of Rewa. In 1953, Mohan was bred to a normal-colored wild tigress called Begum ("royal consort"), which produced two male orange cubs on September 7. In 1955 they had a litter of two males and two females on April 10 (which included a male named Sampson and a female named Radha).
On July 10, 1956 they again had a litter of two males and two females, which included a male named Sultan who went to Ahmedabad Zoo, and a female named Vindhya who went to Delhi Zoo and was bred to an unrelated male named Suraj. These early breeding experiments failed to yield a single white cub. Fearing that the white gene was lost another maharaja, a cousin of the Maharaja of Rewa, recounted, "Rewa was frustrated. I told him the answer-- incest of course!" Out of pure desperation Mohan was then bred to his daughter Radha (who carried the white gene inherited from him) and they produced a number of white cubs. The initial litter of four cubs-- a male named Raja; three females named Rani, Mohini, and Sukishi-- were the first white tigers born in captivity, on October 30, 1958. Raja and Rani went to the New Delhi Zoo, and Mohini was bought by the German-American billionaire John Kluge for $10,000, for the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, and presented to President Eisenhower as a gift to the children of America, in 1960 [i3]. The white gene was saved.
Sukeshi remained at Govindgarh Palace, in the harem courtyard where she was born, as a mate for Mohan. The Government of India made a deal with the Maharaja, under the terms of which Raja and Rani would go to the New Delhi Zoo for free. In exchange the Maharaja's white tiger breeding would be subsidized and he would receive a share of their cubs. He wanted Rs 100,000 for them.
Technically Sukeshi was also the property of the New Delhi Zoo, and in a sense India had nationalized the captive white tigers of Rewa. The Parliament of India used to hear reports on the progress of the white tigers, and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and U Nu of Burma participated in public christening ceremonies for white cubs at New Delhi Zoo. President Tito of Yugoslavia visited New Delhi Zoo and asked for white tigers for Belgrade Zoo, but was refused . A white tiger named Dalip from New Delhi Zoo represented India in two international expositions in Budapest and Osaka. The government of West Bengal bought two white males, named Niladari and Himadri, from the Maharaja for the Alipore Zoological Gardens (Calcutta Zoo), and an orange female named Malini, from the same litter of three born in 1960, accompanied them there. The Alipore Zoo in Kolkata, recovered the purchase price of the white tigers within six months by charging extra to see them. Calcutta Zoo had a fine specimen of a white tiger in 1920. Six zoos acquired white tigers from the Maharaja of Rewa including the Bristol Zoo in England (a brother and sister pair named Champak and Chameli on June 22, 1963) and the Crandon Park Zoo (which closed around 1983, and moved out of Crandon Park to the site of the Miami MetroZoo) in Miami acquired a white tigress in 1968. Bristol Zoo's pair, born in 1962, came from another litter of four, all white, two females and two males.
By 1966 the Bombay Zoo had a white tigress named Lakshmi, born in 1964, from the Maharaja. The Calcutta Zoo sold a white tigress named Sefali to Gauhati Zoo and sent a second white tiger there on loan. By 1976 the Lucknow Zoo also had a white tiger which was a gift from New Delhi Zoo. A white tigress named Nandni, who was born in New Delhi Zoo in 1971, went to Hyderabad Zoo. Zoos with white tigers constituted a most exclusive club and the white tigers themselves represented a single extended family.
The Maharaja was negotiating the sale of a white male, named Virat, as late as 1976, when he died of enteritis. Virat was a son of Mohan and Sukeshi and the maharaja put him on the market after attempting to breed him to Sukeshi, which would have raised the inbreeding coefficient. India imposed an export ban on white tigers in 1960, , in an effort to preserve a monopoly, probably because Anglo-Indian naturalist Edward Pritchard Gee recommended that Govindgarh Palace, and it's white tiger inhabitants, be made a "national trust", which didn't happen. After the export ban was imposed the Maharaja threatened to release all of his white tigers into the Rewa forest, and so he was given dispensation to sell two more pairs abroad, to offset his costs. Mohini was only allowed to leave India because US President Dwight D. Eisenhower intervened personally with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, to ask for the release of the United States government's white tiger. A white sister of Mohini's was brought to New Delhi the year before to show the President, who was no stranger to white tigers. Circus owner Clyde Beatty also bought a white tiger from the Maharaja in 1960, for $10,000 in a deal facilitated by the Smithsonian National Zoological Park director T.H. Reed, which had to be cancelled because of the export ban, which made Mohini even more valuable.
She was estimated to be worth $28,000. Dr. Reed had traveled to India to escort Mohini to Washington. Years later the Bristol Zoo needed a new breeding male and traded a white female to New Delhi Zoo for a white tiger named Roop, who had been named by U Nu, the Prime Minister of Burma. He was the son of Raja by his own mother and half sister- Radha, born in New Delhi. Radha, and many other tigers from Govindgarh including Sukeshi, were later transferred to New Delhi. Begum went to live at Ahmedabad Zoo and was bred to her son Sultan. They produced twelve cubs in four litters between 1958 and 1961. Bristol Zoo later transferred two male white tigers to Dudley Zoo.
In 1951 the Maharaja placed ads in The New York Times and The Times of London, and wrote to Gerald Iles, the director of the Belle Vue Zoo in Manchester, and probably others, offering to sell his captured white tiger cub. He wanted the princely sum of $28,000 for Mohan. The Maharaja was prevented by law from converting rupees into American dollars, and wanted the money to buy a speed boat.Mohan was featured in the National Geographic documentary "Great Zoos Of The World" in 1970. A photograph of his stuffed head, in a display case in the private museum of the Maharaja of Rewa in Govindgarh Lake Palace, appears in the National Geographic book "The Year Of The Tiger."
Mohan died in 1970, aged almost 20, and was laid to rest with full Hindu rites as the palace staff observed official mourning. He was the last recorded white tiger born in the wild. The last white tiger seen in the wild was shot in 1958. The Maharaja of Rewa turned Mohan's native forest into the Bandhavgarh National Park, because he couldn't control the poaching.
Today Bandhavgarh has the largest tiger population of any national park in India. Visitors can stay at the White Tiger Lodge, which is the local version of Tiger Tops in Royal Chitwan in Nepal. Pushpraj Singh, the reigning Maharaja of Rewa, is asking students to sign a petition to ask the President of India to return at least two white tigers to Govindgarh Lake Palace, as a tourist attraction. This would not have happened if not for the famous white tigers. The starting place of the white tigers is now home to the largest population of wild tigers in India.
Mohini, a daughter of Mohan, was officially presented to President Eisenhower by John W. Kluge, in a ceremony on the White House lawn, on December 5, 1960, and went to live at the Lion House, in the National Zoo, in Rock Creek Park. T.H. Reed, the director of the National Zoo, gave this description of Mohini: "Her stripes were black, shading into brown, but her main coat was eggshell white instead of the normal rufous orange. Exotic coloring and magnificent physique made her a tiger without peer. For a two year old kitten she had tremendous growth-almost 190 pounds, three feet tall at the shoulders, and eight feet from nose to tail." White tigers can be larger and heavier than regular orange tigers. The average length of a white tiger at birth is 53 cm, compared to 50 cm for a normal orange cub. Shoulder height is 17 cm (normal 12 cm), weight 1.37 kg (normal 1.25 kg). Dalip and Krishna, two white tigers at New Delhi Zoo, weighed 139 kg and 120 kg respectively, at two years of age. Ram and Jim, two normal colored tigers at the same zoo, weighed 106 kg and 119 kg, at the same age. Raja, the white tiger, had a shoulder height of 100 cm, at ten years of age, while Suraj, an orange tiger, had a shoulder height of only 90 cm, at 12 years of age, according to New Delhi Zoo director K.S. Sankhala. Ratna and Vindhya, orange tigresses "from the white race", who carried the white gene as a recessive (both were fathered by Mohan), were higher at the shoulder than average, measuring 87 and 88 cm, compared to a normal orange tigress named Asharfi, who measured 82 cm at the shoulder. President Eisenhower was also given a rare Pygmy Hippopotamus (Choeropsis liberiensis), a male named Totota (see also Billy (pygmy hippo)), by William Tubman, President of Liberia, in 1960, and a 14 month old baby male African elephant (Loxodonta africana), named Zimbo in 1959 by the director of the Vincennes Zoo in Paris, on behalf of the French community.
Detailed History of the White Tiger
A complete and cited history into one of the worlds