View Full Version : Week 14 - White Tiger

August 20th, 2007, 10:28 PM
White tigers differ from the standard orange and black tigers in appearance only. They are characterized by having a creamy white coat with random black/brown stripes, bright blue eyes, and a pink nose. With the exception of these cosmetic differences, the white tiger remains identical in every aspect to the normal color phased tigers. This striking abnormality is caused by a double recessive allele in the genetic code; and only occurs in one out of approximately 10,000 births (in the wild). Oddly, this rare color mutation is only found in the Bengal tiger subspecies in the wild. In captivity, Siberian and Bengal tigers have interbred creating white hybrid tigers.

In the last 100 years, less then a dozen white tigers have been seen in India. Captive white tigers can all trace their ancestry back to a single white male tiger named Mohan. Maharaja Shri Martand Singh, who found the baby tiger after his mother was killed, captured Mohan back in 1951 in central India.

As soon as Mohan reached sexual maturity, he was bred to a standard female tigress named Begum. Breading was successful, and the pair produced three normal color phased infants. Mohan latter bred with one of his daughters from his second litter with Begum. From this breading, four healthy white cubs were born. Of these cubs, one named Mohini was bred with her uncle or half-brother Sampson. Two of their infants were then sent to the National Zoo here in the United States. Officials from the National Zoo then bred the brother and sister, producing another white tiger named Kesari. These three tigers then formed to core of American white tiger "Founder Stock". Basically, what this means, is that every white tiger seen the United States are descendants of Mohan. All extremely related with very few branches on their family tree!

Although white tigers are extremely beautiful animals, they serve no conservation purpose, with the exception of increasing attendance to zoos. Thus increasing public awareness and education of the plight of all endangered animals. For this reason, the SSP (Species Survival Plan) coordinators for the various surviving subspecies of tiger do not authorize breeding the white tiger in their managed programs. Still this remarkable animal continues to bring hundreds of thousands of fascinated visitors to zoos and educational facilities across the world. Public awareness is the first step in conservation.

Tigers in general are the biggest cats in the world. They live in steamy hot jungles as well as icy cold forest habitats. There are five different kinds or subspecies of tiger alive in the world today. These tigers are called Siberian, South China, Indochinese, Bengal, and Sumatran. Their Latin name is Panthera tigris. Tigers are an endangered species; only about 5,000 to 7,400 tigers are left in the wild. Three tiger subspecies, the Bali, Javan, and Caspian tigers have become extinct in the past 70 years.

Habits: Unlike some big cats like lions, adult tigers like to live alone (except for mother tigers with cubs). This is partly because in the forest, a single tiger can sneak up and surprise its prey better than a group of tigers can.

Range and Habitat: The size of a tiger's territory depends on the amount of food available, and usually ranges from about 10 to 30 square miles (26-78 sq. km). Siberian tigers sometimes have really big territories (as large as 120 square miles). Although tigers usually live alone, tiger territories can overlap. A male tiger's territory usually overlaps those of several female tigers. Today only about 5,0007,000 wild tigers live across Asia. The past and present ranges of the remaining five tiger subspecies are illustrated. The northernmost living tiger, the Amur or Siberian tiger, lives primarily in southeastern Russia. The South China tiger occurs only in southern China. The range of the Indochinese tiger extends across most of Southeast Asia. The Bengal tiger is found primarily in India, while the Sumatran tiger is restricted to the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The Bali, Caspian, and Javan tigers have become extinct in the past 70 years.

Reproduction and Rearing: Female tigers reach maturity when they are about 3 years old, males a year or so later. In temperate climates, a tigress comes into estrus (heat) only seasonally; however in tropical climates, she may come into estrus throughout the year (unless she is pregnant, or is raising cubs). She signals her readiness with scent markings and locating roars. The brief act of copulation occurs continually for a five day period. Tigers are induced ovulators, and must be stimulated through frequent copulation in order to become pregnant. To help stimulate ovulation, the male tiger's penis has spines. Following mating, the gestation period for tigers is approximately103 days. The male tiger does not stay with the female after mating, and does not participate in raising the cubs. The average litter size of tigers is 2 or 3 cubs (the largest is 5). One usually dies at birth. Once a tigress has mated and given birth to cubs, she will not come into estrus again until her cubs are between one and a half and three years of age, with enough skills to begin life on their own.

Diet: Over much of the tiger's broad geographic range, wild pig, wild cattle and several species of deer are its major prey. All prey are forest or grassland ungulates that range in size from 65 to 2,000 pounds (30-900 kg). Typically, wild tigers gorge themselves on fresh kills, and can eat as much as 40 pounds (18 kg) of meat at one time. The tiger will not eat again for several days.

Status: At the beginning of this century it is estimated that there were 100,000 wild tigers, today the number is less than 8,000. Simply put, tigers are disappearing in the wild. The main threats to tigers are poaching, habitat loss and population fragmentation.

Conservation & Ecology: Across all of Asia, once vast forests have fallen for timber or conversion to agriculture. Only small islands of forest surrounded by a growing and relatively poor human population are left. As forest space is reduced, the number of animals left in the forest is also reduced, and tigers cannot find the prey they need to survive. As a result, tigers begin to eat the livestock of villagers who live near them. Sometimes tigers even attack humans. People sometimes kill the tigers in order to protect themselves and their livestock. As human populations move farther into the forest, groups of tigers become separated from each other by villages and farms. This means that tigers in one area can no longer mate with tigers in nearby areas. Instead, tigers must breed repeatedly with the same small group of animals. Over time, this inbreeding weakens the gene pool, and tigers are born with birth defects and mutations.

Even though it is illegal to kill a tiger, wild tigers are still being poached today because their bones, whiskers and other body parts can be sold on the black market for a lot of money. Tiger parts are used in traditional Chinese medicine because some people believe that tiger parts have special powers. Forestry and wildlife departments are too understaffed and under budgeted to be effective against the onslaught of poachers. While the exact number of tigers being poached is unknown, some sources have estimated that one tiger a day is being killed in India.