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.
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Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright
Billions of years ago and billions of light years away, on the far side of a young cosmos, an enormous star died in a hyper nova. As it collapsed into a massive black hole, it emitted a gamma ray burst. This powerful beam of photons began a journey across space and time at the speed of light, aimed at a target that did not yet exist.
On the other side of the universe a swirling cloud of gas and dust congealed into a sun and planets and moons. And one planet had water and carbon and nitrogen, and soon life was simmering there, cooking up all manner of wonders. The drama of life unfolded as evolution changed the scenery and the players over and over, until finally the time was right for one of the most majestic and wondrous creations to step onto the stage. The tiger, a creature of awesome power and beauty was now the predator supreme of planet Earth.
It was the early 1500ís in Rewa, India, and a sultry feline form lay stretched across a rock outcropping, observing the night sky. Her estrus had just ended. For three days she had been pursued and bred by the emerald forestís dominant male tiger. Now she lay in peaceful contemplation, her feminine hormones changing in response to her now pregnant state. As she gazed at the stars above, a comet streaked across the horizon, its long tail ablaze.
At the same moment, gamma rays that had traversed the vast emptiness of space to reach the Solaris system of the Milky Way galaxy were raining down upon planet Earth, penetrating everything in their path; ocean depths and the plant and animal inhabitants, including the resting tigress.
As the photons penetrated this tigressís womb, one of the genes in her zygote was gently nudged into a new configuration that caused a morphological mutation that would alter its outward appearance.
One hundred days later the single cub was born snow white. He was much larger than normal. His tigress mother groomed and nursed him and he grew strong. When he walked in the sun he seemed to glow with a special aura. When he left his motherís side to claim a territory of his own, all the tigresses admired him. His large size and great strength earned him the largest territory in Rewa, and he reigned supreme over all the other male tigers, winning him the right to breed every female near and far. His mutant gene, the chinchilla gene, which had switched off his orange genes and made his coat white, was inherited by his offspring.
Occasionally his descendants would find each other and mate. Sometimes each would pass on their single chinchilla gene and cubs that possessed a double dose of this mutant gene would be born white. This rare coloration mysteriously appeared and disappeared, swallowed up in the vast heterozygous gene pool, kept in reserve like a hole card in the game of survival. For hundreds of years the Indian forest had two colors of tigers, golden and white.
Indians believed the white tiger was the incarnation of the Hindu deity and anyone who killed it would die within a year. This random mutation, this cosmic gift from the other side of the universe protected white tigers from human harm.
But all things change over time, and the balance of nature began to shift. Humans developed technology that wet their appetite for killing tigers. Other cultures traveled to India and the religious beliefs that once protected the white tiger from harm held no place in their hearts. All tigers, white and golden alike were hunted and killed for sport.
400 years after the miracle birth of the first white tiger, there were 100,000 tigers on our planet; most of them lived in India. Fifty years later, that population was less than 5,000 and nearly all the white tigers of the forests were gone.
In 1951 in Bandhavgarth, central India, a tigress and her four cubs were running for their lives. The Maharajah of Rewa and his hunting party were in pursuit when they noticed one of her cubs was white. He shot the mother and her three golden cubs. He offered the white cub to his guest Maharaja Ajit Singh of Jodhpur, but he declined, perhaps because of its rare beauty, perhaps because of the ancient legends. In any case, Maharajahís mercy that day would prove crucial to the survival of the tiger species. Just eight years later, the last white tiger was shot and killed and the cosmic miracle no longer shined in the forest.
The Maharajah of Rewa captured the lone white cub and brought him to his palace. Mohan (the enchanter) grew up in this strange land away from his jungle home. The mutant genes he inherited had saved his life. His unusual beauty earned him many admirers. He was pampered and offered golden tigresses to breed. He sired many offspring that carried his white genes.
The mega predator, deprived of habitat and prey, and reduced to prey itself by a dominator species, played its hole card. Having lost the competition, it befriended the winner. It became, in the eyes of the dominator species, too beautiful to kill - too beautiful to ignore. There is no other way to make yourself fit for a world where everything lives or dies by the whim of man.
In a time when the planet is overburdened with billions of humans with billions of desires, only the most special of creations can capture and hold our attention, can make us turn from our personal affairs and take notice the needs of animals. The mutant white gene serves a cosmic purpose to save the tiger from extinction by making us love them and care about them and work to protect tigers in nature.
The battle is not over, and the outcome is far from certain. Human population continues to grow and the tigersí continues to shrink. It will take a miracle for the tiger to survive into the next century. It will take a miracle from heaven, from the cosmos, from the other side of the universe, to wake us up and see the light. And that miracle is here now. It is staring us in the face, glowing in the sunlight, reminding us that life is beautiful and precious and wondrous, and more complex than we will ever know. Every living creature has value and a purpose on our blue planet. We can never create anything so marvelous as natureís tiger. We must open our eyes and our hearts and do what is right. We must listen to our inner voice that is telling us, Ďsave the tiger.í
Special thanks to Lynn Culver for this article.[an error occurred while processing this directive]