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White Tigers

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-coloured fur with black, grey, or chocolate-coloured 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.

Compared to orange tigers without the white gene, white tigers tend to be larger both at birth and at full adult size.[1] 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, referring to them as "royal white tigers" perhaps from the white tiger's association with the Maharaja of Rewa.

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.[2] 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."[3]

However, most white tigers are now bred in captivity, often by inbreeding parents and cubs to ensure the presence of the recessive gene. Such inbreeding often also leads to birth defects.[4][2]

White tigers drinking.
White tigers drinking.

[edit] Captive White Bengal Tiger Founders


Mohan is the founding father of the white tigers of Rewa[5]. 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.[2] 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[6] to a normal-coloured 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.[7] These early breeding experiments failed to yield a single white cub.[2]

Another maharaja, a cousin of the Maharaja of Rewa, recounted, "Rewa was frustrated. I told him the answer-- incest of course!"[8] 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.[9][2] Raja and Rani went to the New Delhi Zoo, and Mohini was bought by the German-American billionaire John Kluge[10] for $10,000, for the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, as a gift to the children of America, in 1960. 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[11][12] 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[13] . 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)[14][2] 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, but two (one female and one male) didn't survive. 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.[7] 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,[2] which would have raised the inbreeding coefficient.

India imposed an export ban on white tigers in 1960,[15][16][17][18] , 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[19]. 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[20], which made Mohini even more valuable. She was estimated to be worth $28,000. Dr. Reed had travelled 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.[2] 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.[7] 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[21], 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.[22][23][24]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."[25]

Mohan died in 1970, aged almost 20, and was laid to rest with 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.[2] 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.[26]

[edit] Mohini

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.[27][28][29] 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."[10] White tigers are 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.[2] 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.

After arriving in the United States, Mohini spent 1 night in the Bronx Zoo[30], and was then exhibited for three days in the Philadelphia Zoo[31][32], before travelling on to Washington.[10] Her name is the feminine of Mohan, and translates as "Enchantress". She was her father's namesake. She was a great attraction, and the zoo wanted to breed more white tigers. At the time, no more white tigers were being allowed out of India, so Mohini was mated to Sampson, her uncle and half brother, who was sent from Ahmedabad Zoo in 1963.[33] (It seems probable that financial considerations may have also precluded Washington from acquiring a second white tiger as a mate for Mohini.)

After Sampson's death in 1966, at age 11 of kidney failure, Mohini was bred to her son Ramana, who was then the only male white gene carrier available. This resulted in the birth of a white daughter named Rewati on April 13, 1969[34] and a white son named Moni on Feb. 8, 1970. Moni died of a neurological disorder in 1971 at 16 months. Moni was to have undertaken a fund raising tour for Project Tiger. He was born in a litter of five, which included two white males and three orange females. One was stillborn and the mother crushed the others after three days. Rewati had an orange male littermate which died after two days. Ramana was born on July 1, 1964 and had two litter mates-a white male named Rajkumar, who was the first white tiger born in a zoo, and an orange female named Ramani. Both died of feline distemper despite having been vaccinated, at ten months age. Rajkumar had a particularly nasty disposition. All of Mohini's cubs were named by the Indian Ambassador.

The birth of Mohini's first litter was televised in a national special. Mohini's orange daughter Kesari was born in 1966 with an orange female who was stillborn. After Moni died in 1971 the National Zoo tried to acquire an orange tiger named Ram from Trivandrum Zoo, in southern India, as a mate for Mohini[35]. Ram was her first cousin, a grandson of Mohan, and there was a 50% chance that he carried white genes. 25% of Ram's genes came from Mohan and 25% from Begum. 25% of Mohini's genes were from Begum and 75% from Mohan. Ram was a son of Vindhya and Suraj born on 23 IV 1965 at New Delhi Zoo, the same Ram discussed earlier. Two sisters of Ram, born on 22 Feb. 1967, went to the Romanshorn Zoo in Switzerland. In 1973 an Indochinese Tiger (Panthera tigris corbetti) named Poona, who was born at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle in 1962, was sent to Washington from the Brookfield Zoo and bred to Mohini[36] and Kesari.[37] (Poona would have been regarded as a Bengal tiger for the first two years of his life because the Indo-Chinese subspecies was not recognized until 1968.) Mohini did not conceive. Kesari produced six orange cubs, an extraordinary number, especially for a first litter, but only one survived, a female named Marvina. Kesari handed Marvina over to her keepers and kept the other five. Marvina was mistaken for male, and named Marvin which was changed to Marvina when it was discovered that he was a she. Washington Zoo keeper Art Cooper, who hand reared Marvina, observed that white tigers were the most obstinate cats in the zoo, and said that Marvina had a typical white tiger personality.[38] (Poona also fathered litters by two other tigresses in Brookfield.) In 1974 Marvina, Ramana, and Kesari were sent to the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, and Rewati and Mohini went to the Brookfield Zoo, to be boarded during renovations in Washington, until 1976. On June 20, 1974 while at the Cincinnati Zoo Ramana and Kesari produced a litter of three white and one orange cub, including a white male named Ranjit, two white females named Bharat and Priya, and an orange male named Peela. Devra Kleiman of the National Zoo said that she was well aware of the white gene and specifically told Cincinnati not to breed from any of these tigers-Ramana, Kesari, or Marvina. Cincinnati countered that although Ramana and Kesari had failed to breed in Washington they did so almost as soon as they arrived in Cincinnati.[39]

As a fringe benefit of inbreeding the four cubs were pure-Bengal tigers, and they were the last registered Bengal tigers born in the United States. Ranjit, Bharat, Priya, Peela, and Rewati had inbreeding coefficients of 0.406.[40] Ramana died in 1974 of a kidney infection and became a father for the last time posthumously. A white half sister of Mohini's bred from Mohan and his white daughter Sukishi born on March 26, 1966, named Gomti[7] and later renamed Princess, lived in the Crandon Park Zoo in Miami for about a year before she died of a viral infection. She arrived in Miami on January 13, 1968. She was so inbred that both her mother and grandmother were also her half sisters, and her father, Mohan, was also her grandfather and great grandfather. She was half sister and niece to Mohini. Mohan had fathered three generations of his family.

Miami mayor Chuck Hall met the 22-month-old 350 lbs. white tigress at the airport and rode with her to the zoo. He wanted to call her Maya, the name suggested by the Maharaja, which translates as Princess. Ralph S. Scott, who paid $35,000 for her and gave her to the Zoological Society of Florida, preferred the name Princess.[41][42] It was Ralph S. Scott, a famous big game hunter, who suggested to John W. Kluge that he buy a white tiger for the children of America. He had seen the white tigers in Govindgarh Palace while tiger hunting in India.[10] The government of India wanted Princess to be the last white tiger exported from the country. A male white tiger, named Ravi, acquired by Ralph S. Scott for the Crandon Park Zoo died at Kanpur railway station en route from India in 1967. He was a son of Raja and Rani, making him Princess's triple first cousin, born in New Delhi, and sold by the Maharaja of Rewa. Mohini died in 1979.[43] The skins and skulls of Mohini and Moni are in the Smithsonian, but are not on display.

An orange brother of Mohini's named Ramesh lived in the Ménagerie du Jardin des Plantes (Paris Zoo), and was bred to an unrelated tigress, but none of the offspring survived to reproduce. Ramesh was born in Govindgarh Palace and had an orange female littermate, named Ratna who went to New Delhi Zoo, had a white male littermate named Ramu.[7] They were the fourth and last litter of Mohan and Radha. Ratna was paired with a wild caught male named Jim, at New Delhi Zoo, and produced three litters. Each cub would have had a 50% chance of inheriting the white gene from Ratna. Jim was captured in the Rewa forest, so they thought there was a chance he carried white genes. He had been somebody's pet, but after he ate a cat he was given to New Delhi Zoo. Jim used to appear leaping into his pond, at New Delhi Zoo, in the opening of one of Gerald Durrell's TV shows. E.P. Gee mentioned, in his book "The Wildlife Of India", that Bristol Zoo wanted to acquire one of the cubs of Mohan and Begum, as a mate for one of its white tigers, Champak or Chameli, to lessen the degree of inbreeding, as the US National Zoo had done through the acquisition of Sampson. In 1987 Ranjit, Bharat, Priya, and Peela were sold to the International Animal Exchange. Ranjit, Priya, and Peela went to the IAE's facility in Grand Prairie, Texas. The phenomenon of spontaneous ovulation in a tiger was first observed by Devra Kleiman, in one of the white tigresses at the National Zoo, which meant that it was possible to breed tigers by artificial insemination.

[edit] Tony

Tony, born in July of 1972 in the Circus Winter Quarters of the Cole Bros. Circus (the Terrell Jacobs farm) in Peru, Indiana, was the founder of many American white tiger lines, especially those used in circuses.[44] His grandfather was a registered Siberian tiger, named Kubla, who was born at the Como Park, Zoo, and Conservatory in Saint Paul, Minnesota.[45][46] Kubla's parents were born in the wild and believed to be brother and sister. He was bred to a Bengal tigress named Susie, from a west coast zoo, at the Great Plains Zoo in Sioux Falls in South Dakota. Susie was once owned by Clyde Beatty. Two of their cubs (Rajah and Sheba II) were bred together in a brother–sister mating, by Baron Julius Von Uhl, who lived in Peru, Indiana. Julius Von Uhl was born in Budapest and came to America in 1956 from Hungary after the revolution. One of the results of his tiger breeding was Tony, who therefore carried mixed blood[47] and was responsible for introducing Siberian genes into previously pure Bengal line of white tigers in North America. He may also be the source of a gene for stripelessness. Tigers of mixed or unknown ancestry are called generics, or even "trash tigers", by zoo people. 97% of tiger genomes are in private hands.[48] Kubla was also bred to an Amur tigress named Katrina, who was born at the Rotterdam Zoo, and passed through the hands of two American zoos before joining Kubla and Susie at the Great Plains Zoo (see International Tiger Studbook). Kubla and Katrina have living pure-Amur descendants which may include a line of white tigers, that are claimed as pure-Amurs, which originated out of Center Hill, Florida. These white tigers are not registered Amur tigers. A tiger trainer named Alan Gold owned a pair of Amur tigers which once produced a stillborn white cub.

In 1972 there were four white tigers in the United States: Mohini and her daughter Rewati in Washington D.C., Tony, and his first cousin named Bagheera,a female born on July 8, 1972 in a litter of two white cubs, including a male which didn't survive, in the Hawthorn Circus of John F. Cuneo Jr. Bagheera's mother, Sheba III, was a sister of Tony's mother, Sheba II. Bagheera's father was either her registered Amur uncle and preferred mate, named Ural, or one of two of her brothers, named Prince and Saber, who were also brothers to Tony's parents.[49] Sheba III lived to be 26, an astonishing age for a tiger. (This may be the tiger world record for longevity. 20 is extremely old for a tiger.)

Most of Sheba III's litters did not include white cubs, but at least 50% of her orange cubs would have been white gene carriers, since they could have inherited the gene from their mother, and if both parents were heterozygotes 66%, or two out of three, of their orange cubs are likely to have been carriers. Prince was castrated before Sheba III conceived another white cub, a male named Frosty, born on Feb. 25, 1975, in a litter which included two orange females and one orange male.[49] Frosty severely mauled trainer Wade Burck.[50] It seems odd that a tiger which may have been fathering such valuable cubs (Prince) would have been neutered. Saber was never observed trying to mate, so perhaps Ural, also called Genghis, did sire one or more of Sheba III's white cubs, which would have been three quarters Siberian had this been the case. It is possible for tigers from the same litter to have different fathers. It's also possible that any or all three tigers-Ural, Prince, and Saber, carried the white gene.

Tony was purchased by John F. Cuneo Jr., owner of the Hawthorn Circus Corp. of Grayslake, Illinois[51][52] , in February 1975 for $20,000 in Detroit. Tony's parents, Raja and Sheba, produced two more white cubs at the Baltimore County Fair on June 27, 1976.[53] The cubs were a white male, named "Baltimore County Fair", a white female named "Snowball", and an orange male.[54] Snowball's name was later changed to "Maharani", and all three cubs were sold to the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus in Washington D.C.. Maharani died in 1984. Baron Julius Von Uhl had another three white cubs born between June 18 and 19, 1977 at Kingdom's 3 (formerly Lion Country Safari) at Stockbridge, Georgia off I-75 south of Atlanta.[55] Two lived only a short time. The other, named Scarlett O'Hara, died at the Atlanta Zoo on Jan. 30, 1978 of cardiac arrest while undergoing surgery to correct crossed eyes. She was still owned by Julius Von Uhl at the time.[56][57] Tony was sent on breeding loan to the Cincinnati Zoo in 1976, to be bred to Rewati from the US National Zoo. However, Tony and Rewati did not breed, so he was bred to Mohini's orange daughter Kesari instead, resulting in a litter of four white and one orange cub June 27, 1976, the same day that eight year old Sheba had her white cubs in Baltimore, Maryland. It is an astounding coincidence that both tigresses gave birth to white cubs on the exact same day. On that one day America's white tiger population nearly doubled from 8 to 14. Kesari's 1976 litter represented a mixture of the two unrelated strains.

All of the white cubs from Kesari's 1976 litter by Tony were cross-eyed, as were Rewati and Bagheera. The Cincinnati Zoo retained a brother and sister pair from the litter, named Bhim and Sumita, and their orange sister Kamala. Two white males returned to the Hawthorn Circus with Tony as John Cuneo's share from the breeding loan. John Cuneo also asked the Bristol Zoo to trade some white tigers, to diversify the gene pool, but the Bristol Zoo declined, perhaps not wishing to exchange pure-Bengals for mongrels. Tony, Bagheera, and Frosty lived for years with a troop of Hawthorn Circus tigers stationed at Marineland and Game Farm, in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. Because of selective breeding only a few of the oldest white tigers in the Hawthorn Circus today are cross eyed. Bhim and Sumita became the world record parents of white cubs. In 1976 there were 39 white tigers-7 in New Delhi, 7 in Kolkata, one in Guwahati, one in Lucknow, one in Hyderabad, 8 in Bristol, Cincinnati Zoo had 2, Washington had 5, John Cuneo had 5, and Julius Von Uhl had 2. The Maharaja of Rewa retired from the white tiger business in 1976. He later abdicated in favor of his son so that he could run for the family seat in parliament and became an MP. There is a white tiger cub on the shield of the coat of arms of the Maharajas of Rewa.

Over 70 white tigers have been born at the Cincinnati Zoo, which is no longer in the white tiger business. The Cincinnati Zoo sold white tigers[58] for $60,000 each. Siegfried & Roy bought a litter of three white cubs from the Cincinnati Zoo, which were offspring of Bhim and Sumita, for around $125,000. Prior to 1974 the Cincinnati Zoo wanted to acquire a white tiger, but no zoo would sell at any price. By the 1980s the Cincinnati Zoo was the world's leading purveyor of white tigers. After 1976 at least one more white tiger born at the Cincinnati Zoo was cross eyed, a cub from Bhim and Sumita's first litter. Crossed eyes may be reduced or eliminated through selective breeding, as it has been in Siamese cats. Critics refer to white tiger breeding as "proliferation", and the Cincinnati Zoo was derided as a "white tiger mill".

The Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska bought Tony's parents and orange sister Obie (born in 1975) in 1978[59], and bred more white tigers. Kesari also went to live at Omaha Zoo, but didn't have any more cubs. Some of Tony's white siblings born in Omaha proved to be sterile. Obie was paired with Ranjit from the National Zoo, and their cubs like those of Tony and Kesari, included non inbred white tigers. A white tiger named Chester, who was a son of Ranjit and Obie, born at the Omaha Zoo, fathered the first test tube tigers[60], and then became the first white tiger in Australia when he was sent to the Taronga Zoo in Sydney. His brother, Panghur Ban, was the National Zoo's last white tiger.[61] A white tiger named Rajiv, a son of Bhim, became the first white tiger in Africa, when he was sent to Pretoria Zoo in exchange for a king cheetah.[62]

In 1983 Rewati was paired with Ika, from Kesari's 1976 litter, at the Columbus Zoo[63]. By this time he was a three legged amputee retired from circus performance, put out to pasture to breed. Ika killed Rewati in the act of mating[64]. Ika was then mated with a white tigress named Taj, who was a grand daughter of his brothers Ranjit and Bhim, and fathered white cubs in Columbus. Ika and Taj had a cross eyed daughter named Lilly, who appeared on Late Night with David Letterman with Jack Hanna in 1986, as her mother Taj had done years earlier. Ika was also bred to Taj's orange mother Dolly, a daughter of Bhim and an unrelated orange tigress named Kimanthi, in Columbus. Taj's father, Duke, was a son of Ranjit from an outcross to an unrelated orange tigress. Isson, a white grandson of Kesari, was also dispatched to Columbus on breeding loan from the Hawthorn Circus, of Grayslake, Illinois, which eventually had 80 white tigers. In 1984 five white tiger cubs were stolen from the Hawthorn Circus in Portland, Oregon, and two died. The tigers were touring with the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus. The culprit was a veterinarian who was sentenced to one year in prison and six months in a halfway house.[65]

In 1974 a white cub was born in the Racine Zoological Gardens in Wisconsin, from a father-daughter mating. The father, named Bucky, killed the white cub. The mother, named Bonnie, was later bred with an orange littermate of Tony named "Chequila", who belonged to James Witchey of Ravenna, Ohio, who bought him from Dick Hartman of South Lebanon, Ohio, when he was four or five years of age. Chequila proved to be a white gene carrier and fathered at least one white cub in the Racine Zoo in 1980. It is not known whether Bucky, who came from the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo in Indiana, and his daughter Bonnie, were related to any of the established strains of white tigers. By 1987 10% of North American zoo tigers were white.

In 2007 a white tiger was born at Safari Game Park in Bandon, Oregon. The tiger, Sultan, is, as of October 2007, publicly exhibited where children and adults can play with it and hold it and the mother is also at the game park.

[edit] Orissa White Tigers

Three white tigers were also born in the Nandan Kanan Zoo (Nandankanan Zoo) in Bhubaneswar, Orissa, India in 1980. Their parents were an orange father–daughter pair called Deepak and Ganga, who were not related to Mohan or any other captive white tiger – one of their wild-caught ancestors would have carried the recessive white gene, and it showed up when Deepak was mated to his daughter. Deepak's sister also turned out to be a white gene carrier. These white tigers are therefore referred to as the Orissa strain, as opposed to the Rewa strain, of white tigers founded by Mohan [66].

When the surprise birth of three white cubs occurred there was a white tigress already living at the zoo, named Diana, from New Delhi Zoo. One of the three was later bred to her creating another blend of two unrelated strains of white tigers. This lineage resulted in several white tigers in Nandan Kanan Zoo. Today the Nandankanan Zoo has the largest collection of white tigers in India. The Cincinnati Zoo acquired two female white tigers from the Nandan Kanan Zoo, in the hopes of establishing a line of pure-Bengal white tigers in America, but they never got a male, and didn't receive authorization from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)'s Species Survival Plan (SSP) to breed them. White tigers are freaks and phenotypic aberrations.[67] The AZA has recommended that white tigers be "bred to extinction", which is to say, not bred at all and allowed to die out, because they consume space and resources needed for endangered orange tigers.[68][69][70][71][72][73] It has been suggested that as few as 1 in 10,000 tigers in the wild was white. Although many AZA member zoos still keep them, as an attraction to generate revenue, almost none breed them. Sarah Christie, the coordinator of Conservation Programmes at London Zoo, has said that she would not be adverse to using a white tiger in a zoo breeding program provided it was purebred. She said that it's a naturally occurring gene and it shouldn't be selected for or against.[74]Zoo breeding programs for tigers may be of doubtful value to conservation in any case. K.S. Sankhala once asked Sally Walker of the Zoo Outreach Organisation, of Tamil Nadu, India, "Why do foreigners hate our white tigers so much?" The Zoo Outreach Organisation used to publish studbooks for white tigers, which were compiled by A.K. Roychoudhury of the Bose Institute in Calcutta, and subsidized by the Humane Society of India. The Columbus Zoo had also hoped to breed pure-Bengal white tigers, but were unable to obtain a white registered Bengal mate for Rewati from India.[75]

There were also surprise births of white tigers in the Asian Circus, in India, to parents not known to have been white gene carriers, or heterozygotes, and not known to have any relationship to any other white tiger strains. There was a white cub born at Mysore Zoo from orange parents descended from Deepak's sister. On August 29, 1979 a white tigress named Seema was dispatched to Kanpur Zoo to be bred to Badal, a tiger who was a fourth generation descendant of Mohan and Begum. The pair did not breed so it was decided to pair Seema with one of two wild caught, notorious man eaters, either Sheru or Titu, from the Jim Corbett National Park. Seema and Sheru produced a white cub, and for a while it was thought there might be white genes in Corbett's population of tigers, but the cub didn't stay white.[76][77][78]

There have been other cases of white tiger, white lion, and white panther cubs being born, and then changing to normal color. White tigers which were a mixture of the Rewa and Orissa strains, born at the Nandan Kanan Zoo, were non inbred. A white tiger from out of the Orissa strain found it's way to the Western Plains Zoo in Australia. Australia's Dreamworld, on the Gold Coast, wanted to breed this tiger to one of their white tigers from the United States, acquired from Croatian-American tiger trainer Josip Marcan, who was a trainer with the Hawthorn Circus and the Clyde Beatty Cole Bros. Circus, and had also worked as a veterinarian at the Frankfurt Zoo. The Western Plains Zoo rejected the idea.

[edit] Stripeless (Snow White) Tigers

This nearly stripeless tiger is on display at The Mirage in Las Vegas, Nevada
This nearly stripeless tiger is on display at The Mirage in Las Vegas, Nevada

An additional genetic condition can remove most of the striping of a white tiger, making the animal almost pure white. One such specimen was exhibited at Exeter Change in England in 1820 and described by Georges Cuvier as "A white variety of Tiger is sometimes seen, with the stripes very opaque, and not to be observed except in certain angles of light."[79]. Naturalist Richard Lydekker said that, "a white tiger, in which the fur was of a creamy tint, with the usual stripes faintly visible in certain parts, was exhibited at the old menagerie at Exeter Change about the year 1820."[80] Hamilton Smith said, "A wholly white tiger, with the stripe-pattern visible only under reflected light, like the pattern of a white tabby cat, was exhibited in the Exeter Change Menagerie in 1820.", and John George Wood stated that, "a creamy white, with the ordinary tigerine stripes so faintly marked that they were only visible in certain lights." Edwin Henry Landseer also drew this tigress in 1824.

The modern strain of snow white tigers came from repeated brother–sister matings of Bhim and Sumita at Cincinnati zoo. The gene involved possibly came from the Siberian tiger, via their part-Siberian ancestor Tony. Continued inbreeding appears to have caused a recessive gene for stripelessness to show up. About one fourth of Bhim and Sumita's offspring were stripeless. Their striped white offspring, which have been sold to zoos around the world, may also carry the stripeless gene.

Because Tony is present in many white tiger pedigrees, the gene may also be present in other captive white tigers. As a result, stripeless whites have occurred in zoos as far afield as the Czech Republic, Spain and Mexico. Stage magicians Siegfried & Roy were the first to attempt to breed selectively for stripelessness; they own snow white Bengal tigers taken from Cincinnati Zoo (Tsumura, Mantra, Mirage and Akbar-Kabul) and Guadalajara, Mexico (Vishnu and Jahan), and a stripeless Siberian tiger called Apollo.[81]

In 2004, a blue-eyed, stripeless white tiger was born at a wildlife refuge in Alicante, Spain. Its parents are normal orange Bengals. The cub was named Artico ("Arctic"). Stripeless white tigers were thought to be sterile until Siegfried & Roy's stripeless white tigress Sitarra, a daughter of Bhim and Sumita, gave birth. Another variation which came out of the white strains are unusually light orange tigers called golden tabby tigers. These may be orange tigers which carry the stripeless white gene as a recessive. Some white tigers in India have been very dark nearly reverting to the orange colour

[edit] Genetics & albinism

A white tiger in captivity at Wrocław zoo.  The presence of stripes indicate it is not a true albino.
A white tiger in captivity at Wrocław zoo. The presence of stripes indicate it is not a true albino.
White tigers at Singapore zoo
White tigers at Singapore zoo

Contrary to popular belief, white tigers are not albinos; true albino tigers would have no stripes. The stripeless white tigers known today only have very pale stripes.

Part of the confusion is due to the misidentification of the so-called chinchilla gene (for white) as an allele of the albino series (publications prior to the 1980s refer to it as an albino gene). The mutation is recessive to normal color, which means that two orange tigers carrying the mutant gene may produce white offspring, and white tigers bred together will produce only white cubs. The stripe color varies due to the influence and interaction of other genes.

While the inhibitor ("chinchilla") gene affects the color of the hair shaft, there is a separate "wide-band" gene affecting the distance between the dark bands of colour on agouti hairs.[82] An orange tiger who inherits two copies of this wide-band gene becomes a golden tabby; a white who inherits two copies becomes almost or completely stripeless. Inbreeding allows the effect of recessive genes to show up, hence the ground and stripe colour variations among white tigers.

As early as 1907, naturalist Richard Lydeker doubted the existence of albino tigers.[83] However, we do have a report of true albinism: in 1922, two pink-eyed albino young were shot along with their mother at Mica Camp, Tisri, in the Cooch Behar district, according to Victor N Narayan in a ”Miscellaneous Note” in the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. The albinos were described as sickly-looking sub-adults, with extended necks and pink eyes.

Outside of India white tigers have been prone to crossed eyes, a condition known as strabismus, like "Clarence the cross eyed lion",[84] due to incorrectly routed visual pathways in the brain in white tigers. When stressed or confused all white tigers cross their eyes, according to tiger trainer Andy Goldfarb. Strabismus is associated with white tigers of mixed Bengal/Siberian ancestry. The only pure-Bengal white tiger reported to be cross eyed was Mohini's daughter Rewati. Strabismus is directly linked to the white gene and is not a separate consequence of inbreeding.[85][86][87] The orange littermates of white tigers are not prone to strabismus. Siamese cats and albinos of every species which has been studied all exhibit the same visual pathway abnormality found in white tigers. Siamese cats are also sometimes cross eyed, as are some albino ferrets. The visual pathway abnormality was first documented in white tigers in the brain of Moni, after he died, although his eyes were in normal alignment. There is a disruption in the optic chiasm. The examination of Moni's brain suggested the disruption may less severe in white tigers than it is in Siamese cats. Because of the visual pathway abnormality, by which some of the optic nerves are routed to the wrong side of the brain, white tigers have a problem with spatial orientation, and bump into things, until they learn to compensate. Some compensate by crossing their eyes. When the neurons pass from the retina to the brain and reach the optic chiasma some cross and some do not, so that visual images are projected to the wrong hemisphere of the brain. White tigers can't see as well as normal tigers and suffer from photophobia like albinos.[88]There is a 450 lbs. male cross-eyed white tiger, named Namaste, at the Pana'ewa Rainforest Zoo in Hawaii, which was donated to the zoo by Las Vegas magician Dirk Arthur.[89]

White tigers, Siamese cats, and Himalayan rabbits have enzymes in their fur which react to temperature causing them to grow darker in cold.[90] They produce a mutated form of tyrosinase, an enzyme used in the production of melanin, which only functions at certain temperatures. This is why Siamese cats and Himalayan rabbits are darker on their faces, ears, legs, and tails, where the cold penetrates more easily. K.S. Sankhala, who was director of the New Delhi Zoo in the 1960s, observed that white tigers were always whiter in Rewa, even when they were born in New Delhi and returned there. "In spite of living in a dusty courtyard they were always snow white."[2] A weakened immune system is directly linked to reduced pigmentation in white tigers. White tigers react strangely to anesthesia[91] due to their inability to produce normal tyrosinase, a trait shared with albinos, according to zoo veterinarian David Taylor. He was treating a pair of white tigers from the Cincinnati Zoo at Fritz Wurm's safari park in Stukenbrock, Germany, for salmonella.[92]

Mohini was checked for Chédiak-Higashi syndrome in 1960, but the results were inconclusive.[93][94] This condition is similar to albino mutations and causes bluish lightening of the fur color, crossed eyes, and prolonged bleeding after surgery or in the event of injury, the blood is slow to coagulate, in domestic cats. There has never been a case of a white tiger having Chédiak-Higashi syndrome. There has been a single case of a white tiger having central retinal degeneration, which could be related to reduced pigmentation in the eye, reported from the Milwaukee County Zoo.[95][96] The white tiger was a male on loan from the Cincinnati Zoo.

[edit] Inbreeding depression

White tiger at the ZooParc de Beauval in France
White tiger at the ZooParc de Beauval in France

(talk) Because of the extreme rarity of the white tiger allele in the wild[2], the breeding pool was limited to the small number of white tigers in captivity. According to Kailash Sankhala the last white tiger ever seen in the wild was shot in 1958. Inbreeding between these tigers often leads to defects [97]. Due to the high market value for white tigers, unscrupulous breeders will still inbreed white tigers to ensure the offspring also exhibit the recessive gene. Some animal rights activists have called for a halt to the breeding of white tigers altogether. Rewati had a crooked spine, shortened limbs, and crossed eyes, and her reproductive cycle was irregular, making her a poor candidate for breeding. This may be why the National Zoo did not elect to breed her with Poona, while he was on breeding loan to Washington in 1973. It is probably due to the rarity and demand for white tigers that Rewati was later bred by Robert Baudy, in Center Hill, Florida, to an unrelated orange Amur tiger, but did not conceive. A white Amur tiger may have been born at Center Hill, and given rise to a strain of white Amur tigers. The white tiger pictured on the right is at the ZooParc de Beauval in France, and came from Center Hill. Robert Baudy realized that his tigers had white genes when a tiger he sold to Marwell Zoo in England developed white spots, and bred them accordingly. He sold a white tiger to Mike Tyson. Rewati also lived at the Bronx Zoo for several years and they may have attempted to breed her. She appeared on the covers of the April 1970 National Geographic and the June 22, 1973 issue of Science.

It has been possible to expand the white gene pool by outcrossing white tigers with unrelated orange tigers and then using the cubs to produce more white tigers. Ranjit, Bharat, Priya, and Bhim were all outcrossed; in some instances to more than one tiger. Bharat was bred to an unrelated orange tiger named Jack, from San Francisco Zoo, and had an orange daughter named Kanchana.[98] Bharat and Priya were also bred with an unrelated orange tiger from Knoxville Zoo, and Ranjit was bred to this tiger's sister, also from Knoxville Zoo. Bhim fathered several litters by an unrelated orange tigress named Kimanthi, at the Cincinnati Zoo. Ranjit had several mates at the Omaha Zoo.[99] The last descendants of Bristol Zoo's white tigers were a group of orange tigers from outcrosses, which were bought by a Pakistani senator and shipped to Pakistan. Rajiv, Pretoria Zoo's white tiger, who was born in the Cincinnati Zoo and became the first white tiger in Africa when he was traded for a king cheetah, was also outcrossed and sired at least two litters of orange cubs at Pretoria Zoo. Outcrossing isn't necessarily done with the intent of producing more white cubs by resuming inbreeding further down the line. The National Zoo no longer keeps any Bengal tigers and has shifted its focus to endangered Sumatran tigers. The Cincinnati Zoo has more recently bred endangered Indochinese Tigers. The drawbacks of outcrossing are the loss of a generation and the production of surplus cubs which may become "castoffs" or "throw-aways", and be discarded after they have been used to propagate the next generation of white tigers.[100]

White tiger at the Miami Zoo
White tiger at the Miami Zoo

Today white tigers are so numerous that many are in sanctuaries for unwanted tigers. The Lowery Park Zoo in Tampa, Florida has four white tigers from Center Hill, which are "rescue tigers", and may also be pure-Amur tigers. White tigers and white lions have been used in canned hunts in South Africa[101], and there are white tigers being bred on Asian tiger farms, to be killed for their body parts. In China white tigers are made into wine.[102]The PanYu XiangJiang Safari Park in Gungzhou, China, started with four white tigers from Sweden and Germany in 1996, the first in China. Today they have over 100 white tigers, with 10 to 20 births a year, and claim to have 50% of the world's white tigers, but it's unclear, given the cost of housing and feeding so many, why any one safari park or zoo would need more than 1 or 2. A single white tigress imported from Sweden has given birth to 49 of the white tigers.[103][104][105]A tigress should not be bred more than once every 2 to 3 years and this one has been producing two litters a year. There is a myth which has been propagated on the internet, one of many concerining white tigers, that they have an 80% infant mortality. The infant mortality rate for white tigers is no higher than it is for normal orange tigers. In recent years a white tigress at the Buenos Aires Zoo has produced several litters of white cubs, including some which are stripeless, and a litter of 6 in 2004.[106][107]A stripeless white tigress gave birth to four stripeless white, and one orange cub, at the zoo in Guadalajara, Mexico, which has an association with Siegfried & Roy, in 2007. The fact that the litter included one orange cub shows that the father, Nino, is orange. This was the sixth litter born at the zoo.[108][109] In the United States white tigers are in the hands of many shady profit-motivated private owners and breeders, and white tigers have been sold to drug lords and as pets. In 1998 a Florida woman was killed by her pet white tiger and she was its second victim.[110] In 2005 the Border Patrol seized two white tiger cubs which were in a pick up truck on the Texas-Mexican border. [111]Another white tiger cub was confiscated on the border between Tijuana and San Diego in 1991 and donated to the San Diego Zoo, a female named Blanca.[112]Siegfried and Roy, and Tiger Island at MarineWorld/AfricaUSA in Vallejo, California, each asked to have the valuable cub which came from a private breeder in Arkansas. White tigers have been relegated from royal palace to roadside zoo in 56 years. The white tiger pictured at right at the Miami Zoo was born in the Hawthorn Circus and is a subspecific hybrid (Panthera tigris tigris x altaica). In Miami Zoo the white tiger lives in a facsimile of the temple ruins of Angkor Wat in Kampuchea. A keeper was killed by a white tiger, which was a cub of Bhim and Sumita born in Cincinnati, in Miami Zoo in 1994.[113][114]A white tiger also killed a keeper in a Texas zoo.

Perhaps the mongrelization of white tigers has been a mixed blessing, since although the introduction of Amur genes into the white strain has further delegitimized white tigers for zoo conservation purposes, it's possible that hybrid vigor has counteracted inbreeding depression and created healthier bloodlines. Outcrossing is a way of bringing fresh blood into the white strain. The new Delhi Zoo loaned out white tigers to various zoos in India for outcrossing, and the government had to impose a whip to force zoos to return either the white tigers or their orange offspring.

Siegfried & Roy did at least one outcross.[115] In the mid 1980s they offered to collaborate with the Indian government in the creation of a healthier strain of white tigers. The Indian government was reportedly studying the offer, but may not have wished to have their white tigers mongrelized like those in America. In India there was a moratorium on breeding white tigers after cubs were born at New Delhi Zoo with arched backs and clubbed feet necessitating euthanasia. At one point the Cincinnati Zoo was the only zoo in the world breeding them.[116] The New Delhi Zoo decided to try again reasoning that if Cleopatra could be born healthy and normal as the product of three generations of brother to sister unions then so might white tigers. (Cleopatra's parents were not brother and sister.) Mice have been bred brother to sister for 150 generations without ill effect, and are therefore 99.999% genetically identical. Hybrid white tigers appear to be healthier than white subspecific purebreds and an analogy can be made with purebred vs. mongrel dogs.[117]India is committed to keeping their white tigers purebred.

In the mid 1980s Siegfried & Roy owned 10% of the world's white tigers. In the 1980s Siegfried & Roy were escorting two big, dark striped, white tiger cubs to their new home at Phantasialand, in Bruhl, Germany, when the white tigers and their truck were briefly stolen in New York City, when the driver stopped for coffee. The white tigers made their debut in Germany at a ceremony attended by the United States Ambassador. Siegfried & Roy have bred white tigers in collaboration with the Nashville Zoo and they appeared on Larry king with white tiger cubs born at the Nashville Zoo.. Fritz Wurm's safari park in Germany bought a pair of white tigers from the Cincinnati Zoo, and Joan Collins attended the opening of the golden domed white tiger pavilion, at the safari park in Stukenbrock, Germany. Other genetic problems include shortened tendons of the forelegs, club foot , kidney problems, arched or crooked backbone and twisted neck. Reduced fertility and miscarriages, noted by ”tiger man” Kailash Sankhala, in pure-Bengal white tigers, were attributed to inbreeding depression.[2]There have also been congenital cataracts reported from the Cincinnati Zoo[118]and Parkinson's disease in India.[119][120]A condition known as "star-gazing", which is associated with inbreeding in big cats, has also been reported in white tigers.[121] Some of the white tigers born to North American lines have bulldog faces with a snub nose, jutting jaw, domed head and wide-set eyes with an indentation between the eyes. However, some of these traits have also been linked to poor diet. The white gene is recessive, and therefore must be inherited from both parents, to produce a white tiger. Inbreeding is a conscious strategy to promote homozygosity in white tigers. There's really no such thing as a white gene. Rather white tigers carry orange genes which are latent, switched off or suppressed by an inhibitor, which is the chinchilla gene.

[edit] Historical records

White tiger sleeping at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, Louisiana.
White tiger sleeping at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, Louisiana.

In Rewa hunters' diaries recorded 9 white tigers in the fifty years prior to 1960. The Journal of The Bombay Natural History Society reported 17 white tigers shot between 1907 and 1933. E.P. Gee collected accounts of 35 white tigers from the wild up to 1959, with still more uncounted from Assam where he had his tea plantation, although Assam with it's humid jungles was considered a likelier haunt for black tigers. Some white tigers in the wild had reddish stripes known as "red tigers". The Boga-bagh, or "white tiger", Tea Estate in upper Assam, was named that after two white tigers were shot there in the early 1900s. While the modern population descends from Rewan tigers, white tigers may have been recorded as far afield as China and Korea[122], Nepal, Burma, the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra and Java. Historically, white tigers may have been reported in northern China, in the geographic range of the Siberian tiger, and perhaps in the Indochinese, Sumatran and Javan subspecies, but not among South China, Caspian (Panthera tigris virgata) or Bali Tigers. Korean and Manchurian tigers were previously recognized as separate subspecies (Panthera tigris coreensis and Panthera tigris longipilis or amurensis)[123][124], but they are now regarded part of the Amur tiger subspecies (Siberian) named for the Amur river. There were also blue tigers reported from southern China, referred to as "blue devils" because they were notorious man-eaters. Arthur Locke writing in "The Tigers Of Trengganu" (1954) mentions white tigers, but it's unclear whether he means specifically in Trengganu, in the Malay Peninsula, or elsewhere in Asia, in which case there may be no record of white tigers ever existing in the Malay Peninsula.[125] The Malayan Tiger (Panthera tigris malayensis or Panthera tigris jacksoni) was only recognized as a subspecies separate from the Indochinese (Panthera tigris corbetti) in 2004, and the Indochinese as a subspecies separate from the Bengal in 1968. White tigers were reported from Burma, now called Myanmar, but since the Irrawaddy River (Ayeyarwady since 1998) is the theoretical dividing line between the range of the Bengal and Indochinese tiger, it is uncertain whether there were also white Indochinese tigers or white Malayan tigers.

In some regions, the animal forms part of local tradition. In China, it was revered as the god of the West, Baihu. In South Korea, a white tiger will sometimes be represented on the taegeuk emblem on the flag – the symbolising evil, opposite the green dragon for good. In Indian superstition, the white tiger was the incarnation of a Hindu deity, and anyone who killed it would die within a year. Sumatran and Javan royalty claimed descent from white tigers, and the animals were regarded as the reincarnations of royalty. In Java the white tiger was associated with the vanished Hindu kingdoms and with ghosts and spirits. It was also the icon guardian of the seventeenth century court.

White tigers with dark stripes were recorded in the wild in India during the Mughal Empire (1556–1605). A painting from 1590 of Akbar while hunting near Gwalior depicts four tigers, two of which appear white. As many as 17 instances of white tigers were recorded in India between 1907 and 1933 in several separate locations: Orissa, Bilaspur, Sohagpur and Rewa.

Between 1892 and 1922, white tigers were routinely shot in India in places such as Orissa, Upper Assam, Bilaspur, Cooch Behar and Pune. Pollock (1900) reported white tigers from Burma and the Jynteah hills of Meghalaya. In the 1920s and 30s, fifteen white tigers were killed in Bihar, and more were shot in other regions.[126] On 22 January 1939, the Prime Minister of Nepal shot a white tiger at Barda camp in Terai, Nepal. The last observed wild white tiger was shot in 1958, and the mutation is considered extinct in the wild[2]. There have been rumors of white tigers in the wild in India since then, but none have been considered credible. It has been suggested from the casual way that Jim Corbett makes reference to a white tigress, which he filmed with two orange cubs, in his "Man-eaters of Kumoan" (1946)[127] that white tigers were nothing out of the ordinary to him. Corbett's black and white film footage is probably the only film in existence of a white tiger in the wild. It illustrates again that white tigers survived and reproduced in the wild. The film was used in a National Geographic docu-drama about Corbett's life. One theory of white tigers holds that they were symptomatic of inbreeding as a consequence of over hunting and habitat loss, as tiger populations became isolated. In 1965 there was a chair upholstered with a white tiger skin in the "India collection" of Marjorie Merriweather Post, at her Hillwood estate in Washington D.C., which is now operated as a museum. A color photograph of this item appeared in the Nov. 5, 1965 issue of Life magazine.[128]In the October 1975 issue of National Geographic there is a photograh of the minister of defense for the United Arab Emirates with a stuffed white tiger in his office.[129] The actor Cesar Romero owned a white tiger skin.

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