Bengal tiger jumping out of the water. Photo: blickwinkel / Alamy Stock Photo
You may be hearing a whole lot about The White Tiger right now, thanks to Netflix’s new release of the same name, starring Priyanka Chopra and Rajkumar Rao. Or may have read Aravind Adiga’s Booker-winning prose. But the allegorical references aside, the White Tiger is a fascinating creature, with a tragic story of its own. Here are 5 things you may not know about them-
The White Tiger is not a different species
White tigers are not a different species or even a sub-species. They originate from Bengal tigers, which have the familiar orange coat with dark stripes. Their white colour is actually just a recessive gene trait, which also gives them blue eyes. It is only sometimes, if two mating golden tigers carry the recessive gene, that a white tiger is born. If one or both of the mating tigers is white, the odds are greater. This is why white tigers are a rare sight.
They are natural runners (and swimmers)
Like their cousins, the Bengal tigers, white tigers are fast runners. Weighing between 180-220kg, the formidable animal can be quick and agile when it hunts at night. They also enjoy a cool dip in the water, and unlike other cats, are capable swimmers.
The first white tiger spotted in India was in 1951
In 1951, Maharaja Martand Singh spotted a white tiger cub in Rewa, a village in Madhya Pradesh for the first time. The Maharaja domesticated the male cub and named him Mohan. In fact, Rewa palace records from the first half of the 20th century mention as many as 8 white tiger sightings.
All white tigers are selectively bred
After Mohan was captured, the Maharaja bred white tigers and exported cubs to distant countries. Some say that many of the world’s white tigers can trace their ancestry back to Mohan. It is their rarity that increases their value and encourages breeders to create more of them.
Today, all white tigers are held in captivity
Over the years, many zoos across the world, in Lowry Park, Tampa Bay, San Francisco, Bristol and Cincinatti have outcrossed white tigers to create an exotic attraction for tourists. But all of the trading and breeding has made the creature even rarer, with many offspring developing serious deformities. There has been no recorded sighting of white tigers in the wild for over 50 years. In January this year, a white tiger was born at the Nicaragua Zoo. The mother tigress, found abandoned by a circus, rejected the white cub, who is now being raised by humans.The little one has been named Nieve, which means “snow” in Spanish, and is the first ever white tiger born in the country, to a pair of yellow-and-black-coloured Bengals.