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White tigers to get new home in Rewa

By Chetan Chauhan, January 2012

White tigers to get new home in Rewa

Rewa in Madhya Pradesh, home of last white tiger in wild, Mohan, will be the new experimental home for breeding the unique species of big cat, who will eventually be released into semi-wild habitats.

The environment ministry has given in-principle approval for setting up a conservation-breeding centre of white tigers in Govindgarh, Rewa from the genetic material of Mohan, captured in late 1950s.

Rewa Maharaja Martand Singh first sighted the male white tiger during his visit to Govindgarh jungle in 1950. After hunting for months, he captured the first living white tiger seen in nature.

For years, Singh with the help from official veterinary experts tried to breed the white tiger with coloured female tigers but failed. But, the year before Mohan died in 1958, Singh succeeded in creating a second generation of white tigers, which has expanded around the world.

The white tigers are normally bigger in size than the Royal Bengal tigers but are said to lack the agility of coloured tigers to hunt in the wild. In early 19th century, white tigers were found in Bengal, Bihar and Assam, when total tiger population in India was over 30,000. One out of 10,000 coloured tiger born is white primarily because of mutation of a colouring gene.

Mohan was said to be the last white tiger seen in the wild. But, his genetic material has helped retain the endangered sub-species of big cat in captivity.

"Almost all of the captive white tigers in North America today have descended from Mohan and are highly inbred. Some white tigers have also been mated with other tiger subspecies, creating what are called hybrid tigers," said a document on white tigers prepared by National Tiger Conservation Authority (NCTA).

The NCTA with the Central Zoo Authority will set up the conservation-breeding centre. The purpose is not only to conserve the dwindling population of white tigers but also to attract tourists.

According to officials, fully-grown tigers from zoo would be brought to Rewa for mating. "The cubs would be trained for sustaining in an enclosed forest area," said a Madhya Pradesh forest department official.

The state has been asked to start the groundwork for setting up the centre in captivity.