White Bengal tigers or tigers of mixed Bengal/Amur ancestry have pink noses, white-to-creme coloured fur and black, grey or chocolate-coloured stripes. White Bengal tigers eyes are usually blue, but may be green or amber. There are several hundred captive White Bengal tigers worldwide (this number increases annually), all of whom can trace their ancestry back to ‘Mohan’, a White Bengal tiger caught in Rewa, India in 1951.
White Bengal Tiger
There is an interesting story to the discovery of the first White Bengal tiger. In India one of the royalties which was led by by Maharaja Shri Martand Singh of Rewa had killed a white tigeress. Later, four cubs of this dead tigeress were found. All of them were shot except for the white cub.
The Maharaja of Rewa offered his guest, the Maharaja Ajit Singh of Jodhpur, the honour 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 and once captured he was housed in the unused palace at Govindgarh in the erstwhile harem courtyard. The Maharaja named him ‘Mohan’, which roughly translates as ‘Enchanter’.
All the white tigers in the world today are the descendants of this cub.
Contrary to popular belief, White Bengal tigers are not a separate species in their own right, but are a mutant form of the orange Bengal tigers.
In the public eye, white, or more correctly, chinchilla tigers are perhaps the colour which is to be most admired. The correct term for these tigers is chinchilla albinistic: blue eyed, lacking in phaeomelanin, pale-coated, but having a pattern.
White Bengal tigers habitats are mainly Dense forests and lush grasslands.
White Bengal Tiger Characteristics
White Bengal tigers are fully grown at 2 – 3 years of age. Male White Bengal tigers reach weights of 200 – 230 kilograms and up to 3 metres in length. The female White Bengal tigers weigh 130 – 170 kilograms and measure up to 2.5 metres long. White Bengal tigers have stripes all over their body. Their stripes are like fingerprints, no two are the same. The stripes are not only in the tigers fur, but are a pigmentation of the skin. White Bengal tigers have a white spot on the back of their ears which looks like an eye.
White Bengal tigers grow faster and heavier than their orange relatives and with their pale ice blue eyes, white fur with chocolate coloured stripes, pink noses and pink paw pads they are indeed a beautiful sight. Unfortunately, White Bengal tigers are subject to extreme inbreeding because of the demand for their rare colourings. Inbreeding is not a natural occurrence and can to lead certain deformities in the newborns.
A White Bengal tiger cub can only be born when both parents carry the unusual gene for white colouring. The double recessive allele (a viable DNA coding that occupies a given position on a chromosome) in the genetic code only turns up naturally about once in every 10,000 births. For unexplained reasons it seems to occur only in the Bengal subspecies.
White Bengal tigers are also called Indian tigers, they are the most numerous in population than any other tiger subspecies. White Bengal tigers were killed as a part of sport carried out by Indian and British royalties. There number declined at a fast rate. White Bengal tigers are one of the only two species of cats that like water. At full running speed they reach speed of up to 60 kilometres per hour. They do not possess great stamina. The average White Bengal tiger sleeps between 16 to 18 hours per day.
White Bengal Tiger Behaviour and Diet
White Bengal tigers lead solitary lives and the courtship period and association between mother and cub is their only interaction and association. Tigers are entirely different in their hunting habits from lions. Tigers rest during the day in the shade and begin to hunt for food at dusk. White Bengal tigers have keen eye sight and a sharp hearing that helps them stalk their prey. Tiger killings are split second actions where the prey hardly has any chance of survival. The Tigers formidable and retractile claws play a significant role in capturing and holding on to its prey.
The White Bengal tigers diet in the wild is water buffalo, goat, deer and wild boar. Their diet in captivity is mainly chicken, horsemeat or kangaroo meat five days a week. They also fast on bones twice a week in captivity.
Inbreeding 0f White Bengal Tigers
Due to the small size of the gene pool, many White Bengal tigers suffer from health problems due to inbreeding. For this reason, responsible zoos refuse to breed two White Bengal tigers together.
However, two white parents are the only way to ensure white cubs. If a White Bengal tiger mates with a partner that is heterozygous for the gene, only half of the offspring will be white. Therefore, due to the high demand for White Bengal tigers, less scrupulous breeders still breed white tigers together. Some animal rights activists have called for a halt to the breeding of White Bengal tigers altogether.
Outside of India, highly inbred White Bengal tigers are prone to crossed eyes (strabismus) due to incorrectly routed visual pathways in the brain), star-gazing and postural problems, a weakened immune system and poor tolerance of anaesthesia, possibly due to inability to synthesize the tyrosinase enzyme.
Strabismus is associated with white tigers of Bengal/Amur ancestry. Only one pure Bengal white tiger was reported to be cross eyed, this being Mohini’s daughter Rewati.
White Bengal tigers may also be prone to Chediak-Higashi Syndrome which causes bluish lightening of the fur colour and is associated with crossed eyes. Other genetic problems include shortened tendons of the forelegs, clubbed feet, central retinal degeneration, abnormal kidneys, arched or crooked backbone and twisted neck.
Reduced fertility and miscarriages were noted by Sankhala (the director of the New Delhi Zoo in the 1960s) and were attributed to inbreeding depression. 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.
There are only a small quantity of white tigers in existence and present numbers are put in the region of 500. With the inevitable inbreeding problems a debate continually rages over the wisdom of breeding this animal. White tigers, white lions, white peacocks, none are representative of their wild populations.
The Tiger Species Survival Programme has actively discouraged breeding white tigers because of their mixed ancestry. Most of these animals have been hybridised with members of other subspecies usually of an unknown lineage.
Other organisations object to white tigers both because of the lack of genetic diversity and because it serves no practical conservation purpose.
Some opponents state that white tiger breeding only inflates the stud book entries for zoos and provides a popular exhibit which helps increase attendance and revenue.