Doc Bhagavan Antle, or Doc Antle, presides over T.I.G.E.R.S., The
Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species located in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
|[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Should the Bengal Tiger-White return to the wild?
Some people are under the impression that the Bengal tiger-white descended from a single ancestor. While it is true that Rewa strain of white tigers originated from Mohan, subsequently another strain of white tigers happened to be born to Bengal tigers at Nandankanan zoo, Orissa, which have their ancestry from a different forest area. There have also been reports of sightings of white tiger in other locales.
Tiger Species Survival Plan has condemned breeding white tigers on the allegation that they are of mixed ancestry; hybridized with other subspecies and are of unknown lineage. But this is not true of Bengal tigers-white found in zoos in India.
Among animals incessant inbreeding for several generations causes deleterious traits. This can be observed among Asiatic lions, Bengal tigers and Bengal tigers-white as well. On the other hand there are in Indian zoos several healthy Bengal tigers-white born to heterozygous recessive Bengal tiger parents which are only carriers of the white trait. It can therefore be found that the genes that are responsible for deleterious traits and deformities are not directly linked to white pigmentation. This is best illustrated by the analysis of the data from the Central Zoo Authority, India. Mortality rate among Bengal tiger-white in all the Indian zoos together is lower than that of the Bengal tigers, 6.73% and 8.19% respectively for the five year period 2004-2009, which is a pointer to their chances of survival.
In the year 2008-2009, a closing stock of 264 Bengal tigers and 100 Bengal tiger-white were accounted for in Indian zoos as a whole. The disproportionate growth in the numbers of the latter evidences the relentless inbreeding resorted to in order to selectively multiply the white tigers. This process will eventually lead to loss of genetic variability and inbreeding depression.
The fact that the Bengal tiger–white was not able survive and multiply to the desirable level in the wild is mainly because of the superstition prevalent among Indian villagers that on sighting a white tiger, one would soon die. Princes and poachers equally considered them as covetable targets. Proper surveillance and sensitization programs can surmount these problems. Recently, Bengal tigers have been re-introduced into Sariska Tiger Reserve, Rajasthan, where they went locally extinct. Likewise healthy individuals from among captive Bengal tiger-white can be reintroduced into an isolated tiger population in the jungles of Rewa or of Orissa in20a phased manner on an experimental basis. As for undetected illnesses they can be tackled as and when they arise.
No vested interest in propagating the white coat as such but the only idea should be to enrich the native gene pool by certain naturally mutated genes which are still conserved in captivity and which have an inherent right to survive in the wild.
Nicky K.Xavier, Ph.D.[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Scientist & Principal Investigator
Forest Genetics & Biotechnology Division
Kerala Forest Research Institute
Peechi, Thrissur, Kerala, India