MUTANT BIG CATS - WHITE TIGERS (PAGE 1)
Mutants are natural variations which occur due to spontaneous genetic changes or the expression of recessive (hidden) genes. Recessive genes show up when there is too much inbreeding. As well as anomalous colours, there are abnormally large or small individuals, longhaired individuals, short-tailed or even tail-less individuals. All of these occur in domestic cats so why are they less common in big cats? Wild cats displaying these traits may be less likely to survive to pass on the traits. In captivity, humans control which traits are bred, hence the multitude of domestic cat colours and types. In the wild, nature selects against any trait which does not enhance the animal's survival chances.
In the past, the obvious reaction to any unusual big cat was to shoot it for the trophy room. As a result, many interesting mutations may have been wiped out before the genes were passed on. Some colour mutations which would disadvantage a wild big cat are bred in captivity and are not viable in the wild. It is questionable whether these mutants should be perpetuated for the sake of curiosity or aesthetics alone.
I am grateful to Paul McCarthy and Mary Ann Howell for researching and providing extensive material, information and corrections on white tigers and for genealogies.
White Tiger Genealogies from Mohan to Modern Day
On White Tigers Page 1 (This Page)
On White Tigers Page 2
Historical Accounts of White Tigers
It is commonly believed that white tigers only occur among Bengal tigers. Korea and Northern China, but not Siberia, were known for white tigers in the wild. The mutation may have also occurred in pure-bred Amur tigers. The Amur tiger (as it is now called) was previously split into the Manchurian, North China, and Siberian subspecies. The smaller Korean tiger was also previously recognized as a subspecies. The Siberian, Manchurian and Korean subspecies have been combined into the Amur subspecies, which is also known by its historical name of Siberian or North China tiger. White tigers have been reported in northern China, in the geographic range of the Amur tiger and seem to have occurred in the Indo-Chinese, Sumatran and Javan subspecies. White tigers have not been reported amongst the South China, Caspian or Bali tigers. The blue tigers reported in China and on the North/South Korean border region may have been due to a manifestation of the same mutation. White tigers form part of tradition in some regions. In China the white tiger was revered as the god of the West. The white tiger is represented on the South Korean flag in the Yin and Yang emblem, the white tiger as evil opposite the green dragon for good. According to Indian superstition, the slayer of a white tiger would die within a year and the white tiger was regarded as the incarnation of a Hindu god. Sumatran and Javan royalty claimed descent from white tigers, and white tigers were regarded as the reincarnations of royalty. White tigers are also known as Ice Tigers, not because of their habitat, but because of their "glacial" appearance.
This painting from around 1590 depicts 4 tigers, 2 of which appear to be white tigers when compared to the 2 orange tigers shown (Akbar, who is depicted hunting the tigers in the painting, also had a white cheetah). This appears to be the first record of white tigers. The Gwalior tiger hunt painting is from the "Akbarnama" of Akbar the Great, the Moghul Emperor of India. It depicts Akbar hunting tigers while returning from Agra to Malwa in 1561. There is some debate over whether the light coloured tigers are white tigers since light colored tigers are not uncommon. At the Gwalior hunt, Akbar killed a tigress and five subadult cubs.
Sally Walker of the Zoo Outreach commented, in her article in Zoo's Print White Tigers The Indian Point Of View, that the casual way that Jim Corbett refers to a white tiger in "Man Eaters Of Kumaon" suggests that it was nothing out of the ordinary. Corbett's film of a white tigress, with 4 nearly grown orange cubs, is suggestive of a white bodied tigress with an orange head.
White tigers, whether of Bengal, Amur or mixed ancestry, should really be considered a man-made "breed". White tigers with dark brown or reddish-black stripes were recorded in the wild during the Mughal Period from 1556 - 1605 AD. 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. The Bombay Natural History Society recorded 17 white tigers shot in India between the years 1907 and 1933. One was shot in the Dhenkanal State, Orissa, in 1909 and described in the Society's Journal ‘The ground colour was pure white and the stripes were of a deep reddish black colour" Another was shot in the Bilaspur District of the then C.P. in 1910 and described in the Journal as "cream coloured throughout but paler on the head and the stripes were chocolate brown". That shot in the district of Bhagalpur in Bihar, and was as "pure white with black stripes on her body and russet brown ones on the tail. The taxidermists to whom the trophy was sent report that during the year 1926 they received three white tiger skins including mine (mine was shot on December 6, 1926), but my skin is the only pure white one, the other two being cream coloured."
In "The Pictorial Museum of Animated Nature" by Alan L Wolfe (1844), it was noted "Individuals are sometimes exhibited of a very pale colour, with the stripes very obscure, and Du Halde says that the Chinese tiger (Lou-chu or Lau-hu) varies in colour, some being white, striped with black and grey." It is possible that some white tigers captured were of the Indo-Chinese race which were previously classed as Bengal tigers.
In March 1889 one was shot in upper Assam and is recorded by Lydekker. Lt.-Col. FT Pollok wrote in his book "Wild Sports of Burmah and Assam" (1879) "Mr. Shadwell, Assistant Commissioner in the Cossyah and Jyntiah Hills, also had two skins quite white, but when turned about in a strong light just a faint mark or two could be seen to indicate that they belonged to a tiger at all." A white tiger from Poona was reported in the "Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London" in 1891. Messrs. Rowland Ward wrote in "Records of Big Game" of a number of white tigers shot in India, including one was shot in Rewa State and presented by the Maharaja to King George V. A male white tiger from the Lechuar Jungles of Bihar was exhibited in the Indian Museum, Calcutta; it was cream with light brown stripes (probably due to fading) and the glass eyes were normal coloured.
In Harmsworth Natural History (1910, chief contributors R Lydekker, Sir H Johnston & Prof JR Ainsworth-Davis) p372: “As rare exceptions, both white and black tigers are met with. A white tiger, in which the fur was of a creamy tint, with the usual stripes faintly visible in certain parts, was exhibited in the menagerie at Exeter ‘Change in London about 1820; a second example was obtained at Poona about 1902, and a third in Assam in the spring of 1899. All three specimens were of a beautiful creamy white colour, with faint indications of stripes.”
The Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society (JBNHS) published "Miscellaneous Notes: A White Tigress in Orissa" in JBNHS Vol XIX, Pt 3, 28 Feb 1910
In the "Indian Forester" for May, Mr Bavis Singh, Forest Officer, Dhenkanal, Orissa, records the shooting of a white tigress in the Mulin Sub-Division Forest of the Dhenkanal State, Orissa. He describes the colour of the animal as follows:- "The ground colour was pure white and the stripes were of a deep reddish black colour." The tigress was shot over a buffalo kill and was in good condition not showing any signs of disease. There are several previous records of white tigers. In "Wild Sports of Burma and Assam," Col FT Pollock writes:- "Occasionally white tigers are met with. I saw a magnificent skin of one at Edwin Wards in Wimpole Street, and Mr Shadwall, Assistant Commissioner in Cossyah and Jynteah hills, also had two skins quite white."
Writing in 1907 Mr Lydekker in the "Game Animals of India" mentions five white tiger skins as follows:- "A white tiger was exhibited alive at Exeter Change about 1820; a second was killed at Poona about 1882; in March 1899 a white tiger was shot in Upper Assam and the skin sent to Calcutta, where a fourth specimen was received at about the same time. The Maharaja of Koch-Behar also possesses a white tiger-skin."
The Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society (JBNHS) published an article “An Albino Tiger From The Central Provinces” in volume XIX. The following letter was printed in the JBNHS, Vol XXIV, Pt IV, page 819.
An Albino Tiger From The Central Provinces
I have just had the opportunity of examining the skin of an albino tiger from the Central Provinces; it was killed about six years ago in the Pendra Zamindari of the Bilaspur District. This skin with the paws cut away is piped with green flannel and mounted with the head raised and the mouth open. It measured from nose to tail 7 feet 6 inches, of which the tail only measured 2 feet 6 inches, but this has probably been shortened by the dresser as it was not intact near the root. The narrowest part across the skin measured 2 feet 8 inches. It was cream coloured throughout but paler on the head and the stripes were chocolate brown. The fur was rather long and soft in texture; its whiskers, of which only three remained were dark-brown and white. It is still in fairly good condition except for a few small bare patches on the face and behind the ears. The animal had been shot by an uncle of the owner (Syed Anwar Padsha, Revenue Inspector, Seoni Chhapara, C. P.) who brought it to the museum with a hope of disposing of it and my object of putting this in the journal is merely to put the fact on record and to give any would-be purchasers of such curiosities an opportunity.
E A D’Abreu, Fellow of the Zoological Society
Central Museum, Nagpur, 1st May 1916
Editor’s Note: In Volume XIX of this Journal a white tiger was recorded from Orissa and the other occurrences on record were also given.
The earliest known photograph of a live white tiger comes from the JBNHS, from pg. 932 from No. 4, Vol. XXVII (1921) about the white tiger captured by the Maharaja of Rewa in 1915. The article was published in 1921 although the tiger died in 1920. An earlier photo of a white tiger in the JBNHS is of one shot around 1910 as part of the article "An Albino Tiger From The Central Provinces" and is briefly referred to in this later article.
MISCELLANEOUS NOTES : No. 1.—A WHITE TIGER IN CAPTIVITY (with a photo.)
We publish the photograph of a White Tiger which is at present in captivity in the Maharaja’s gardens at Rewa. The photo was forwarded to the Society through the agency of Capt. K. Evans Gordon. Mr. Janki Prasad, Home Member, Council of Regency, Rewa, when sending the photo, supplied Capt. Evans Gordon with the following details.
“The white tiger in captivity in Rewa was caught in December 1915 in the jungles of the State near Sohagpur. He was about two years of age at the time. There were two more white tigers at the time in Southern Rewa related to this tiger but it was believed that the mother of this animal was not white. A big cage was kept for months in the jungle in which live pigs were placed to attract the tiger. The Shikaries concealed themselves on a tree above the cage and by a contrivance, a sort of door could be let down as soon as the tiger was inside. The tiger was accordingly caught when inside the cage killing the pig. A white tiger was killed by a Sardar in Sohagpur Tahasil, Southern Rewa, about 10 or 12 years ago. Two other tigers appeared in the beat near the Shabdol and Annuppur, B. N. Ry., but His late Highness’ orders were that these should not be shot. The one at Annuppur (Bhilam Dungari Jungle) was said to be brother of the white tiger in captivity. These white tigers roam in the neighbouring British Districts of the Central Provinces and seem to be living in the Maikal ranges of mountains.”
Mr. H. E. Scott of the Indian Police has very kindly furnished us with the following description and notes in connection with the animal.
Description.. (From examination of tiger on December 3rd, 1920.)
Body Colour - Pure white. No cream colour was visible. The ‘Creamy-white’ as described by Mr. Janki Prasad was probably due to the dirt of the cage. (The tiger is now better cared for than formerly.)
Stripes - Indistinct or light black, not brown as stated by Mr. Janki Prasad. While some of the stripes, particularly the face markings, are quite black, the majority are ash-coloured owing to white hairs being mixed with the black. In the hot weather, the hair, as is the case with all felines, goes a lighter colour, and the black stripes take on a slightly brownish tinge, but this is never pronounced.
Nose - . Mottled grey-pink (instead of pure pink as in normal tigers).
Lips - . Grey-black on hair-line but quickly merge to pink (instead of being quite black and gradually merging to pink well inside the mouth as in normal tigers).
Eyes- The colourings of the eyes are very indistinct. There is no well-defined division between the yellow of the comex and the blue of the iris. The eyes in some lights are practically colourless merely showing the black pupil on a light yellow back ground.
Eyelids - Pinkish-black.
Ears - . Practically normal in colour and markings. The ground black is however slightly ashy.
General description and Discussion regarding identity - The tiger is of course underdeveloped owing to years of captivity, but in height he is probably slightly above normal and in a wild state would undoubtedly have been an exceptionally large animal.
To that miscellaneous note, the Journal editors added the following:-
I, myself, when stationed in Bilaspur District in. 1919, did my best in the hot weather to come up with a white tiger, which must have been a very large and heavy animal, judging from the size of the pug-marks which I tracked on many occasions. This tiger was however very shy and would not look at tied ‘kills’ but was especially fond of bison cows and calves. He was constantly seen by herdsmen in the jungle, but never made an attempt to take an animal out of the herd. The above would seem to indicate that these white tigers run large, which suggests a theory that they are not mere albinos but a distinct variety of Felis tigris. These white tigers have been known for years in the neighbourhood where the Bilaspur and Mandla. Districts of the C. P. join with Rewa. State. One was shot by a villager in the north of Bilaspur District, about 15 years ago, and another in the Rewa State some years later. There are at present to my knowledge three white tigers in the jungle and it is quite probable that there are many more, as the area in Maikal Hills, which they in. habit is large, wild, and hilly, and, since the beating for or killing of tigers is prohibited in the State, it is possible that these shy white tigers might roam in this secluded jungle for years undetected and unmolested Last year in the hot weather two of these white tigers, full grown, were seen taking a sand bath in the bed of a stream in the South of this State. They may of course have been born of the same mother but the observed constant association of white tigers with one another tempts one to believe that they do not interbreed with the ordinary variety of tiger.
A A Dunbar Brander, F.Z.S., F.R.G.S. Conservator of forests, wrote in his book Wild Animals In Central India (1923): "White tigers occasionally occur. There is a regular breed of these animals in the neighbourhood of Amarkantak at the 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." He added "As one often sees mounted specimens with pink insides to their mouths, it may be as well to mention that the insides of tigers' mouths are a light whitish olive green, and the tongues are yellowish white or grey but faintly tinged with pink."
The former Maharaja of Rewa shot a white tigress in 1937. In 1946 a pregnant white tigress was shot by the Administrator and the six unborn cubs were described as white though this was not substantiated. The Maharaja shot a white tiger in 1947, the last white tiger to be shot in the Rewa area.
In the 1950s, it was believed that white tigers were found only in the drier regions (since black leopards were found in wetter regions), but they were also found in thickly forested wetter areas such as Assam and in Madhya Pradesh and Bihar (Central India), including the Bilaspur and Mandla districts of the old Central Provinces, old Rewa State, and parts of Bibar. Suggestions that these are what remains of a race of white tigers in a snowy wilderness are fanciful, especially as the mutation is seen in a tropical sub-species of tiger and tigers are a forest species! It is debatable whether white tigers have a place in the wild. They are mutant forms of the Bengal and Amur tiger and are not a sub-species. Humans have selectively bred white tigers. There are more than 600 white tigers worldwide (John Cuneo's Hawthorn Circus had more than 80) and The Zoo Outreach Organization in Tamil Nadu, India maintains a white tiger studbook compiled by AK Roychoudhury of the Bose Institute in Calcutta.
In July 1955, a white tigress was reportedly seen in the jungles of Vindhya Pradesh, Central India, but was never shot or captured; she was fancifully claimed to be the mate of the Maharaja or Rewa's white tiger. The last recorded wild white tiger was shot at Bihar in 1958. It was shot near Hazaribagh in Bihar, and the skin displayed at a Calcutta taxidermist’s establishment. Although they are no longer seen in the wild, the mutant gene may still be in the gene pool. The Boga-bagh (White Tiger) Tea Estate in upper Assam is so called from the two white tigers shot there at the beginning of the 1900s; one of them had "a lemon-coloured patch on the back of the neck, otherwise it was white with faint stripes". Two light-coloured tigers shot by WG Forbes of Hathikuli Tea Estate in 1929 were described at the time of curing by Messrs. Van Ingen as "red tigers" (i.e. light coloured with light brown stripes).
White tigers have been recorded outside of the Indian state of Rewa and as far afield as China and Korea and from Nepal, Burma, the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, and Java. The surprise occurrence of white tigers in American Zoos suggests that several orange Bengal tigers imported from India may have carried the recessive white gene (Bengal tigress Susie from an unidentified West coast zoo may have introduced the white gene into Amur/Siberian crosses).
According to KS Sankhala, "Ever since white tigers were discovered, people have been fascinated by them, and scientific opinion has differed as to whether they are a separate race, complete or partial albinos, or merely mutants." One of the earliest records of white tigers is of one displayed in London in 1820 and described by Rev J G Woods as "a creamy white, with the ordinary tigerine stripes so faintly marked that they were only visible in certain lights". White tigers were routinely shot between 1892 and 1922 in places such as Orissa, Upper Assam, Bilaspur, Cooch Behar and Poona. Pollock (1900) reported white tigers from Burma and the Jynteah hills of Meghalaya, Between the 1920s and 1930s fifteen white tigers were killed in the Bihar region and more were shot in other regions. Some of the trophies exhibited in Calcutta Museum. In 1922, two pure white young adult tigers with pink eyes were shot in Cooch Behar (north-east India). At Mica Camp, Tisri in Behar. On 22 January 1939, the Prime Minister of Nepal shot a white tiger at Barda camp in Terai Nepal. In 1951, a normal coloured tigress and cubs were shot, but her white cub was captured alive some days later. This cub "Mohan" ("Enchanter") became the founding father of the white tiger breed. The last observed wild white tiger was shot in 1958 and the mutation is considered extinct in the wild. The slaughter of hundreds of orange tigers evidently killed the carriers of the mutant gene.
"...north China has produced a number of albinos, with the inevitable but faint brown stripe. Very rare melanistic (black) tigers are known." ("King Of Cats And His Court by Victor H. Cahalane, National Geographic Feb. 1943)
There was a chair upholstered with white tiger skin in the collection of Marjorie Merriweather Post; a colour photo of which appeared in an article titled "Mrs. Post's Magnificent World" published in "Life" magazine (Vol 59, No 19, Nov 5, 1965).
Lydekker (1907) doubted the existence of albino tigers, but old records of Cooch Behar mention a tawny tigress who was shot along with 2 coloured and 2 sickly-looking white cubs that had extended necks and pink eyes. In "Animal kingdom", Cuvier described a white tigress whose stripes were visible only at certain angles of reflection.
White Bengal Tigers (Rewa)
There were 8 cases of white tigers in Rewa State between 1909 and 1959. These were recorded in palace diaries and included a 2 year-old male captured near Sohagpur in December 1915 and kept for some years in captivity. The Maharajah Gulab Singh of Rewa captured this young male white tiger in December 1915 and it lived in captivity at his summer palace in Govindgarh until 1920 after which it was stuffed and presented to George V as a token of loyalty (it may still be in the British Museum today). HE Scott of the Indian Police described that animal in December 1920 in a Miscellaneous Note in the Bombay Natural History Society's Journal (account printed earlier on this page).
There was also a fine specimen of a white tigress in the Calcutta Zoo in 1920. The Maharajah was succeeded by Maharajah Shri Martand Singh who shot a white tiger in 1948 and then resolved to try to capture a white tiger. In May 1951, the Maharajah and his hunting party came upon a tigress with four cubs, including one white one, while hunting in Bandhavgarh, a jungle region of Central India (now a national Park, Bandhavgarh has "White Tiger Lodge"). The cubs were about 9 months old. The hunting party shot all but the white cub which his guest, the Maharaja Ajit Singh of Jodhpur, declined to shoot. The white cub, which appeared bigger and stronger than the others, escaped back into the jungle, but hunger drove it to a kill previously made by its mother. A cage was placed at the entrance of the crevice where the cub was hiding; when thirst overtook the cub it entered the cage and was trapped. It was transported to the Maharajah's palace where it was kept in a large, open courtyard. This tiger was the famous Mohan ("Enchanter"). He was unsuccessfully offered for sale for £10,000 in The New York Times and The London Times, on June 22, 1951.
Gerald Iles said the Maharaja offered Mohan to Manchester Zoo, suggesting he approached several zoos. A "Life" magazine article about Mohan from Oct. 15, 1951 was entitled "White Tiger: An Indian Maharaja Is Trying To Sell His Rare Cub To A U.S. Zoo." The Maharaja was 28, and the asking price was $28,000. Dealers estimated its value at $4000 and predicted a slow market. In July 1955, the world's only known white tigress was reportedly roaming the bamboo jungles of Vindhya Pradesh, Central India and was said to be the mate of Mohan (erroneously said to have been captured 2 years before). Few people had ever seen it and anyone who could trap would be able to name their own price (Los Angeles Times, July 31, 1955)
On February 27, 1952, a normal-coloured tigress, Begum, was captured in the area and was kept with the white tiger. Mohan was bred to Begum, but they produced only orange cubs (the Maharajah didn't know about recessive genes when he kept breeding Mohan to Begum.). Begum did not carry the white gene. Two male normal-coloured cubs were born on September 7, 1953, and of these one was given to Bombay while the other went to a Calcutta dealer. The second litter of four normal-coloured cubs was born on April 10, 1955, consisting of two males and two females. A male and a female cub of this litter went to a Calcutta dealer, and one male cub was given to the Ahmedabad Zoo. The remaining female cub was kept at Rewa and later bred to Mohan. A third litter was born to the white tiger and the normal coloured tigress on July 10, 1956 and two female cubs were presented to the President and the Prime Minister of India, and went to the Zoological Park in New Delhi while a male cub along with its mother went to the Ahmedabad Zoo. These normal coloured cubs were heterozygotes.
Chart 01a: Mohan, Begum and Offspring at Calcutta Zoo (large image, opens in new window)
Chart 01b: Mohan, Begum and Offspring at Delhi Zoo (large image, opens in new window)
Chart 01c: Ratna (Mohan's daughter) and Jim (large image, opens in new window)
The Maharajah of Baroda said "Rewa was frustrated. I told him the answer, incest of course". Mohan was then bred to his daughter Radha, resulting in 4 white cubs on October 30th, 1958: Raja ("ruler" or "king"), Rani, Sukeshi and Mohini ("Enchantress") that carried 75% of Mohan's genes. Radha continued to be mated to Mohan. In 1960, Radha produced Malini (tawny female) and Nildari and Himadri (white males). In 1965, Malini and Niladri produced Ravi (white female) and in 1969 they produced 4 white cubs: Arun, Barun and an unnamed male, plus a female called Kiranmala. Later litters produced only 2 white cubs: Rupa (female) and Subhas. Himadri and Chandana produced 20 white cubs, though only 4 survived long term: Sefali, Tara, Hira and Himadri Jr. Calcutta Zoo sold female white tiger Sefali to Gauhati Zoo. According to Gee, 2 sisters of Radha went to the New Delhi Zoo who may not have known they were heterozygotes. An orange female from Mohan and Radha's second litter was supposed to have gone to New Delhi Zoo, but went to Calcutta Zoo instead in exchange; Calcutta Zoo did not honour the part of the exchange requiring a share of her offspring. To introduce new blood into the white tigers at Calcutta Zoo, Chandi was mated with an orange "Burmese" tiger, called Bhanu.
Radha/Mohan matings ultimately produced 13 white cubs and 9 orange; she died in 1974. Raja was also mated to his mother Radha and the pair produced a male white cub named Roop who was traded to Bristol Zoo for a white female. Mohan died in 1969, aged almost 20. He was the last recorded wild-caught white tiger and the first Bengal tiger to be registered in the International Tiger Studbook at Liepzig Zoo.
Begum, the wild orange tigress bred to Mohan, was bred to Sultan, one of her sons by Mohan even though Begum did not carry the white gene. This occurred after Begum and her son had been sent by the Maharaja to a zoo (Begum could not be returned to the wild). This proved Begum did not have the white gene, but , if she had, the Begum-Sultan matings could have led to heterozygotes in the zoo population of Bengal and generic tigers.
Chart 01d: Begum and Sultan Test Matings and Offspring (large image, opens in new window)
Naturalist EP Gee described Mohan as "an exceptionally large and powerful beast, with a fine coat and ruff, with ground colour of almost pure white or off-white. There seemed to be no trace of brown, lemon, or even cream colour. The stripes were ash-coloured. The eyes appeared to be icy-blue, and the pads of the paws pink. ... The cubs appeared to be exact replicas of the father, and therefore need, no description. All appeared to be in perfect health, and a striking contrast to their richly-coloured mother [Mohan's daughter]. All five animals behaved as would be expected of tame animals in a zoo." Gee had been invited to examine the Rewa white tigers following the mating of Mohan to his daughter. At this time, the chinchilla mutation was erroneously believed to be a form of albino. Gee described the varying degrees of whiteness as ranging from light-coloured tigers with dark brown stripes ("red tigers") and cream-coloured ones with dark brown or dark grey stripes, through to white tigers with ashy-grey stripes. He noted that preserved skins of white tigers often faded to a cream background with dark brown stripes.
Professor JBS Haldane, one of the world’s leading geneticists in the 1950s, wrote of the breeding of albinos that albino mated to albino produced only albinos; albino mated to normal almost always produced "normals" (the inverted commas denote heterozygotes (carriers)), but those "normals" could be mated to albinos or to other "normals" to produced albinos and more "normals". EP Gee applied this theory to the Rewa white tigers and wondered if mating Mohan to his daughter would again produce only white cubs. Haldane advised Gee that the white tiger gene was a "recessive mutant" in which case the mating should produce equal numbers of white and "normal" cubs. In the 1950s, the chinchilla mutation (which is what white tigers really have) was unknown, luckily chinchilla is also recessive and follows the same rules as albino.
Bristol Zoo also wanted an orange daughter of Mohan, but if they were successful then she was never bred. The Maharaja of Rewa gave an orange son of Mohan, Ramesh, to the President of India, who made it a state gift to France. It resided at Paris Zoo, where it fathered several litters. It has no living descendants today, and Paris Zoo did not know it carried the white mutation and made no attempt to breed white tigers from it. Two orange daughters/grand-daughters of Mohan went to Romanshorn Zoo, Switzerland. They were 2 sisters of Ram (born at New Delhi Zoo 23rd March 1965 and went to went to the Trivendrum Zoo) to Vindhya, daughter of Mohan and Begum, and an unrelated tiger named Suraj. The 2 sisters were born 22nd Feb 1967 and had a 50% chance of inheriting the white gene. They do not seem to have contributed to the white tiger gene pool. Mohini later went to America to found a line of white tigers there. Raja and Rani, were given by the Maharajah to the Indian government for the New Delhi Zoo, in exchange for subsidization of his breeding program and a share of their offspring. When they arrived at New Delhi Zoo, Rani was already pregnant. Raja and Rani's names translated as king and queen, though this was coincidental (TH Reed had been given a free choice and could have chosen Sukeshi, Raja or Rani instead of Mohini, for the Washington Zoo.
In 1964 Raja and Rani produced two white cubs, a male and a female. Rani mauled both, killing the female. The surviving male, Tippu, lost his tail and was hand-reared with difficulty. In 1965, Rani had two white cubs, but both died due to neglect. Rani had a second litter in 1965, this time producing three white cubs. She reared them for one month, but then lost interest. The female died aged 17 months and the male died in 1967 during shipping to the USA (at the railway station as noted below). Raja and Rani produced 20 cubs, all white, though Rani was not a good mother. Sukeshi was retained for breeding with Mohan. When Mohan was retired from breeding, Sukeshi was to be mated to her own son, but he showed no interest in mating with her and after 6 unsuccessful years Sukeshi went to New Delhi Zoo where she remained until her death in 1975.
After the Maharajah successfully bred white tigers, which he housed in Govindgarh Palace, the government of India banned the export of white tigers, declaring them a living treasure. EP Gee recommended that Govindgarh Palace, and its tiger occupants, be made a national trust. Gee was a strong advocate of captive breeding for conservation. The Indian government took an interest in white tigers, banning their export on the grounds of concern over their survival. The Indian Parliament used to hear reports on the white tigers. When Eisenhower visited New Delhi in 1959, a white sister of Mohini was brought from Rewa to show him. In 1960, the German-American billionaire John W. Kluge bought a white tigress from the Maharajah for $10,000 as a gift for the US National Zoo (NZP) in Washington DC, but the government of India would not let it out of India. Negotiations included President Eisenhower appealing to Prime Minister Nehru to release Mohini from India. Finally Mohini was officially presented to President Eisenhower on the White House lawn. Tiger trainer Clyde Beatty also bought a white tiger from the Maharajah for $10,000, but was not allowed to take it out of India, and his money was refunded. TH Reed negotiated on Beatty's behalf. Mohini was a great attraction and the zoo wanted to breed more white tigers. Beatty had apparently originally tried to buy Mohan from the Maharaja of Rewa in 1951 ("Beatty Makes Offer For White Tiger Cub", Reading Eagle Oct. 25, 1951)
A person instrumental in bringing Mohini to the USA was Patricia Hunt. In "Life" magazine Vol 56, No 6, Feb 7, 1964, the "Editor In Charge Of Whales, White Tigers, and Sifakis" column by George P Hunt (no relation) wrote "[Patricia Hunt] once found a story in the ad columns of The New York Times, in which an Indian maharaja was offering white tigers for sale. Her cables and her interest resulted in the sale of a white tiger to a U.S. zoo, for which the maharaja was duly grateful."
Of Mohini, TH Reed said "Her stripes were black, shading into brown, but her main coat was eggshell white instead of the normal rufous orange [...] For a two-year old kitten, she had tremendous growth-almost 190 pounds, three feet tall at the shoulders, and eight feet long from nose to tail."
Mohini stayed overnight at Bronx Zoo where Crandall was director. She also spent one night at the Philadelphia Zoo, en route to Washington. Crandall described the arrival of Mohini, and later her consort, thus: "On November 30, 1960 a "white" tiger that had been presented to the National Zoological Park by John W. Kluge of the Metropolitan Broadcasting Company arrived here for an overnight stay. It was forewarded to Washington on Dec. 1. This animal, bred in the collection of the Maharaja of Rewa, in central India, was a well grown female about 2 years old. It's ground color was nearly white with faint cream overcast, and the stripes were sooty black. The eyes, reported as blue, appeared green to me. [...] On January 6, 1963 a normally colored male Bengal tiger arrived at the National Zoological Park, Washington, from the zoo at Ahmedabad, India. Bred under the direction of the Maharaja of Rewa, this animal is both half brother and uncle of the "white" female recieved in 1960. On January 6, 1964 the female gave birth to three cubs, of which one was white."
Because no more white tigers were being allowed out of India, NZP mated Mohini to Sampson (her mother Radha's brother, imported to Washington from Ahmedabad Zoo, India in 1963), her orange uncle and half-brother (thanks to inbreeding) who carried the white gene. One of their offspring, Ramana, was mated back to Mohini resulting in the white female, Rewati. When first introduced, Sampson bit off part of Mohini's ear! Unfortunately, inbreeding depression was starting to show up and at one point Rewati's hind legs were paralyzed and she was crawling in circles. While visiting New Delhi Zoo, Marshal Tito, President of Yugoslavia, also requested white tigers for Belgrade Zoo, but was refused by the Zoo.
Chart 03: Mohan's Line via Mohini in the USA (large image, opens in new window)
In spite of the agreement with New Delhi Zoo, because of the expense of keeping the white tigers the Maharajah threatened to release them all into the forest. As a result he received permission to sell two more pairs to foreign zoos. A brother and sister pair, Champak and Chameli, went to Bristol Zoo in 1963 at a cost of $10,000 each (£7,000) where they produced several litters, all white, but only 4 females (Sumuti, Nirmala, Chandra and Shubra) progressed well. According to the Leipzig studbook the pair produced 5 cubs on May 6 1970: 4 females, Nirmala, Seeta, Shubra and Nandini, plus 1 male that died on May 8 1970 at 2 days old. Champak died in 1970. He was replaced in 1975 by Roop (son of Raja and Radha). Roop and Sumuti produced white cubs of which Akbar II, Jehand and Chandra survived. Roop and Nirmali produced Shiva.
Bristol Zoo's last white male, Akbar II, was loaned to Dudley Zoo and paired with an orange tigress (Bristol Zoo had 2 white males: Akbar and Akbar II). Two male white tigers were transferred to Dudley Zoo from Bristol Zoo; Akbar II and either Shiva or Jehand (who do not appear in the International Tiger Studbook as going to Dudley Zoo from Bristol). An unrelated orange male was introduced to Bristol Zoo. The last descendants of Champak and Chameli at Bristol Zoo were a group of orange tigers sold via Ravensden Zoo Co Ltd to senator Zahid, Akhtar of Karachi, Pakistan. The senator had no idea they carried white genes until he gave away some of his tigers to Lahore Zoo where they had white offspring. Had he known, he would have obtained a better price for them. Three orange females, carrying the white gene, went from Bristol Zoo to Longleat Safari Park: Nepti, Schalla and Suki. The white tigers of Bristol Zoo are documented by "Wildlife Conservation And The Modern Zoo" (1981) by Gordon Woodroffe.
Chart 04: Champak and Chameli Genealogy (large image, opens in new window)
Chart 04a: Roop's Descendents (Bristol Lineage) (large image, opens in new window)
Another pair was sold to the Crandon Park Zoo in 1967, but the male died at a railway station in India. The female, Gomti, arrived in Miami in 1968. Ralph Scott had first seen the white tigers of Rewa while tiger hunting in India. He bought the two white tigers for Crandon Park Zoo for $35,000 each. The white female, known as Gomti in India, but Princess in America, only lived about a year in Miami and apparently succumbed to an infection. Gomti/Princess was the daughter of Mohan and Sukeshi and was Mohini's half-sister; she may have been intended to breed to a cub of Raja and Rani (her first cousin). In August 1979, a white tiger called Seema was sent to Kanpur Zoo as a mate for orange tiger Badal (a 4th generation descendent of the Mohan-Begum line). The pair did not mate and Seema was later bred to Sheru, a wild-caught orange tiger. Seema and Sheru produced 3 cubs: Sajeev, Uttam and a white called Johar. This suggested that Sheru carried the recessive gene for white and that it might still be present in the wild. However the white cub later developed normal orange colouration, suggesting that the wild-caught tiger didn't carry the white gene after all.
In 1970, Dalip, a white tiger from India was temporarily exhibited at the India Pavilion at Expo 70, held in Osaka, Japan. He was described in Japanese as "sorai tora" and was viewed by around half a million people each day. Dalip was also exhibited in Budapest at the World Exhibition of Hunting as "what not to hunt". Previously white and tawny tigers had been hunted as trophies and up until 1965 it was legal to kill tigresses with cubs and to sell the cubs. A tiger called Gautam had been due to go to this event, but had died a week before the scheduled departure. Dalip was the only white tiger to return to India after exhibition in foreign lands (KS Sankahala, "Tiger!", chapter: The White Tigers of Rewa). In 1976, white tiger Virat died while his sale was being negotiated was in 1976.
In India white tigers were loaned out to zoos for outcrossing and the government had to impose a whip when they refused to return either the white tigers or their cubs. School students in Madhya Pradesh now want to see white tigers back in Rewa. In 2007, the region had only one white tiger, which was in the zoo in the state capital (one of only 75 white tigers in India at the time). Pushpraj Singh, a scion of the Rewa royal family of Rewa wanted to keep white tigers at Govindgarh Lake Palace just as his father had kept Mohan.
White Bengal Tigers (Orissa)
A second strain of white tigers appeared in the Nandankanan Zoo in Orissa, India. When the first three white tigers of the Orissa strain were born, the Nandankanan Bio Park already had a white tiger named Diana from New Delhi Zoo. The three white cubs were born to a pair of orange tigers, Deepak and Ganga, in 1980 in the Nandankanan. The parents were unrelated to the Rewa white tigers. The produced 7 more cubs of which 2 were white. Although their full pedigree is unknown, it is assumed that a male grandparent of the white tigers carried the recessive white gene and passed this to his male offspring, Deepak. Deepak was then mated to his own daughter, Ganga, resulting in the white cubs. Nandankanan Biological Park went on to have the largest collection of white tigers in India, with 8 females and 5 males. A mating of Deepak with unrelated white tigress Diana (also called Subhra) produced a female called Aswini. Deepak and Ganga produced (between 1980 and 1981) females Alaka, Nanda and Jamuna, plus males Debabrata and Pinaki. Debabrata was outcrossed to white tigress Diana and produced (1983) females Sweta, Swapna, Sipra plus male Sangram and a male that died in infancy. Two more white cubs, a male and a female were produced in 1985.
An article in The Statesman, Delhi, Jan 23, 1980 pg. 5 read New Dynasty Of White Tiger, Bhubaneswar, Jan. 22 - Three white tiger cubs were born last week in the Nandan Kaanan biological park, 15 km from here, reports PTI. The notable feature of these cubs is that they were born of two normal coloured Royal Bengal tigers, Deepak and Ganga, in a sanctuary. Their birth followed the arrival in Nandan Kanan of a white tiger, Subhra, from Delhi Zoo in exchange for two black leopards and two Royal Bengal tiger cubs. There are only 32 white tigers all over the world in various zoos. Of these 24 are in India. Almost all white tigers are the progeny of the famous white tiger, Mohan, belonging to the former Maharaja of Rewa. The birth of three white cubs in Nandan Kanan marks a dynastic departure.
Chart 02: White Tigers of Orissa Genealogy (large image, opens in new window)
In Sri Chamarajendra Zoological Gardens, Mysore in 1984, a white female and an orange female were born to two orange tigers. The grandmother, Thara, was Deepak's sister acquired in 1972. Mysore Zoo also had white females Priyadarshini and Ashima, the latter obtained from Delhi Zoo. Calcutta Zoo bred its white tigers from 2 white males and an orange female bought from the Maharajah and also had white tigers born into their collection from another branch of the Nandankanan Zoo Orissa strain. The Orissa strain white tigers' genes have now apparently been lost.
In July 2000, Nandankanan Zoological Park, India 13 Bengal tigers, including 9 white tigers, died apparently as a result of a reaction to medication for sleeping sickness. 17 tigers had been medicated. White tigers appear to be more susceptible to adverse reactions as a result of inbreeding. Prior to the incident, the zoo had 56 Bengal tigers including 32 white tigers.
White Tiger at Paradise Wildlife Park
White Amur (Siberian) Tigers
A third strain of white tigers came to light at the Como Zoo in Minnesota where two Amur (Siberian) tigers who were brothers, both born at Como Zoo, may have carried the white gene. These had had no Bengal ancestry and their parents, a brother and sister who were both registered Amur tigers, had been captured in the wild (though elsewhere, one is described as a Siberian/Bengal cross). Some of the brothers' purebred Amur descendants are white. One of these Amur brothers (Kubla) was bred to a Bengal tigress (Susie) at Sioux Falls Zoo, South Dakota. Kubla was the grandfather of Tony, a founder of many American white tiger lineages. At the Great Plains Zoo, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Kubla was also mated to an Amur tigress named Katrina who was born at Rotterdam Zoo and joined Kubla and Susie in Sioux Falls after passing through the hands of two other American zoos. Kubla and Katrina had two full-bred Amur daughters.
These Bengal/Amur matings resulted in 12 live cubs. Of these, a brother and sister pair (Raja [also spelled Rajah and Radja] and Sheba II) were sold to one individual while a litter of 5 cubs were sold to another. The new owners each bred brother to sister; white cubs resulted in both cases.
Chart 3.1: Raja and Sheba II's Offspring (large image, opens in new window)
The other Amur brother was then bred to his Bengal/Amur hybrid niece, Sheba II, while in the Hawthorn Circus. Sheba II produced white cubs suggesting that her pure Amur uncle carried the white gene. The majority of the litters sired by her Amur uncle did not include white cubs, which suggests that the white genes may have come from her demi-Bengal brother. Raja and Sheba II were bought by Baron von Uhl of Shrine Circus and later produced at least 2 more white cubs while at the Henry Doorly Zoo, Omaha. Raja and Sheba II also produced two white cubs in Baltimore in 1976. The New York Times wrote: "Rare Tigers Born At Fair. Middle River Maryland, June 27, 1976: "An 8 year old Siberian tiger named Sheba gave birth today to two rare white cubs at the Baltimore County fair. The tigress is owned by Julius Von Uhl who uses her in an animal act. A spokesman for the National Zoo in Washington said that only 36 white tigers are known to exist." However, Von Uhl claims all his cubs were born in Indiana and Georgia. Baron Julius Von Uhl Circus existed as recently as 1995, but Von Uhl is now a horse trainer at the Chicago-based "The Noble Horse" having cut ties with white tigers. He claims to have owned only 2 white tigers, Tony and a white female cub that didn't survive and that he didn't purchase any from Robert Baudy, or sell any to a Swedish Zoo. Raja and Sheba II appear to have had only 2 litters while with Von Uhl who may have erroneously believed that white tigers were an inevitable result of line-breeding (meaning inbreeding).
Alan Shoemaker, Columbia, South Carolina, (Riverbanks Zoo, studbook keeper for the leopard, and part of the IUCN Cat Specialty Group) believes there are pure Amur white tigers in captivity today. Robert Baudy, claims that his white tigers are of pure Amur stock. Baudy apparently realised that his Amur tigers had white genes after one sold to Marwell Zoo developed white spots (confirmed by Marwell Zoo). Baudy sold a pair of white, supposedly pure Amur, tigers, Raisa and Gorby, to the Beauval Zoo in France and some of Raisa and Gorby's offspring went to a Dutch zoo and some to Colchester Zoo, England. The Long Island Ocelot Club (LIOC) newsletter of July/August 1988 wrote: "Baudy is recoqnized as being very capable in his ability to breed some of the hard-to-breed species according to US Fish and Wildlife Service enforcement agents in Tallahassee. "Probably the breeder's greatest coup came a year ago, when he announced the birth of Boris, the first white Siberian tiger born in captivity. The green-eyed Boris is already a majestic 200 pounds and is expected to triple his weiqht by the time he matures. Baudy estimates his value at $250,000 - but he's not for sale. The breeder hopes to cross Boris with his yellow half-sister and bring forth the elusive white gene again. Bill Zeigler, curator for Miami Metrozoo, where white Bengal tigers were recently born, says "if both Boris' parents are pure Siberian, then the tiger may indeed be one of a kind, but if it has any Bengal in it at all, it would be no more rare than ours." There are about 70 white tigers in the world, most of which are hybrids, Zeigler says." The rather shaggy white tigers at Tigerhomes (USA) are also described as Siberian (Amur) white tigers. I also have personal correspondence relating to a pair of privately owned Amur tigers that produced a stillborn white cub.
Kubla also has living descendants that are registered as purebred Amur tigers though it is possible that three-quarter Amur tigers sold through Hunts Brothers International Animal Exchange, in Ferndale, Michigan, might have been mistakenly for pure Amur tigers, resulting in the white gene entering Amur lines in zoos. The Amur tiger is sometimes mistakenly called the "White Siberian Tiger".
White Tigers of Unknown Lineages
In 1980 a white tiger cub was born at the Racine Zoo in Wisconsin from an accidental father/daughter mating, though the cub was apparently killed by the father. The mother was later used to breed more white cubs. They were not known to have carried the white gene and it is uncertain how they relate to the other known white lineages. The same is true of the white tigers in the Asian Circus in India. Everland Zoo (Yongin Farm zoo), Seoul, South Korea, bought white tigers from a private breeder, Betty Young of Arkansas; these are descended from the Racine Zoo (Wisconsin) tigers. Everland Zoo (Yongin Farm Zoo) also have white tigers from Omaha and Cincinnati zoos, and have bred white ligers (lion/tiger hybrids) possibly from white tigers and leucistic lionesses. Young also acquired white tigers from Cincinnati Zoo.
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Albino tigers (Cooch Behar)
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White tigers (Orissa, Bilaspur, Rewa, Bhagalpoore, North Bengal, Assam and Korea)
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Genetics of Chinchilla and AlbinoRobinson's Genetics for Cat Breeders & Veterinarians 4th Ed (the current version)
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