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Newsletter 22
24/04/09

Shine a White Light

As evening falls, a huge thunder storm rolls in over Tiger Canyons.
 
Three helpless, newly born tiger cubs, lie in the grass. Their mother has abandoned them and they are at the mercy of the elements.
 
Reluctantly I decide to save them from the ravages of the storm. To leave them in the bush, will mean certain death.

 
As I peer down into the thick bush, one cub shines out like a light, the other two are invisible.
 
How is it that in a litter of 3 cubs, one is white and two are normal?
 
To answer the question I must go back to 1951 in the province of Madya Pradesh in India. Here a white tiger male cub was captured. He was called Mohan.
 
When Mohan was mated with a normal tigress, all the cubs were a normal colour. These cubs would have all carried the rare white gene although their colour was normal. They are known as "white gene carriers"
 
Mohan x Normal Tigress
ww x RR
 All cubs normal colour, carry white gene - R
w

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mendelian_inheritance
R = normal colour gene (dominant)
w = white colour gene (recessive)
Rw = normal cubs, carry the white gene (100%)
 
In Julie and Seatao's case at Tiger Canyons, Julie contributed the normal and the white genes, as did Saetao. Both are "white gene carriers". When Julie's white gene (w) combined with Seatao's white gene (w), the white cub Shine was produced.
 
  Seatao ()
Normal male, carry white gene
R
w
R w

Julie ()
Normal tigress,
carry white gene
R
w

 

R RR Rw
w Rw ww
Shine

 

RR = normal cubs (25%)
R
w = normal cubs, carry the white gene (50%)
ww = white cubs (25%)
 
Therefore it is a fallacy that if two "white carriers" mate, the cubs will automatically be "white gene carriers" As in the case of RR, it could be simply a normal cub.
 
In the mating of Saetao and Julie, it is unknown whether the 2 normal cubs are carriers or not.
 
 
The Mohan example is certainly very similar to the situation the white lions faced in the Timbavati Private Reserve in South Africa in the 1970's.
 
Human beings would not allow nature to take its course. Money could be made from white lions, so they ended up in zoos and circuses and private collections. Inbreeding occurred, more white lions were bred and then sold to the highest bidder.
 
The hundreds of white tigers in zoos, circuses and private collections have suffered the same fate. Many have reduced fertility, eye weaknesses, sway back and twisted necks.
 
There is a feeling among circus trainers that white tigers are more aggressive than normal tigers. The tiger that attacked the well known entertainer, Roy, during the "Siegfried and Roy" show in Las Vegas, is a white tiger.
 
Now I have the unique opportunity to observe at close quarters whether the female white tiger cub "Shine" is at a disadvantage in the wilds.

Tiger cub movie
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PaZu-4rR_Pg

 
 

Firstly, "Shine" is definitely not weaker than the two normal cubs and competes ferociously for milk and meat. Whether she is more aggressive, is too early to say.
 

Pic: Yvette van Bommel-ten Vaanholt

Pic: Sunette
 
Although her blue eyes give her a piercing unique beauty, I suspect those eyes may not be as effective as the dark eyes under the harsh African sun.
 
Where her disadvantage will lie, is when she starts to hunt alert prey. She simply does not have the camouflage that the normal tigers have.
 
In the interplay of shadow and light in a forest, a normal tiger can become invisible.
 
In tall brown grass, a normal tiger can melt into the background.
 
Lying behind a rock with blotched lichen, the tiger merges with the rocks.
 
Simply put, the white cub "Shine", will stick out like a "sore thumb" when she tries to hunt.
 
With the exception of the primates, the prey of the tiger see in shades of black and white. Examine their flight techniques, waterbuck have white circles on their rump, kudu flash a white tail as does nyala.  Impala, blesbuck, mountain reedbuck, red hartebeest flash white tails and zebra combine black and white stripes as their "flight flags"
 
In short, the prey see white better than any colour and herein lies the big disadvantage for a white solitary hunter that relies on stealth, to get close to quarry.
 

Pic: Yvette van Bommel-ten Vaanholt
 
So what is the conservation value of producing a white tiger cub, if any?
 
The answer lies in its beauty and mythical qualities.
 
Like the white lions, many people believe white tigers to be superior to other tigers. Godlike in many ways, messengers, ambassadors for their species, so to speak.
 
Certainly visitors at Tiger Canyons, if they are fascinated by the normal tiger cubs, they are mesmerized by the white cub.
 
If newly born white cubs could be introduced into wild tigress litters, it would certainly help the Asian conservationists who are trying to save the parks and their tigers. They would provide political mileage, a reason to protect the parks, which are under siege from rising human populations.
 
Will white tigers thrive in the wilds? I suspect not. There are too many natural factors against them. If white tigers were so successful, there would have been many more sightings in the past.
 
Like the white lion it remains in the wilds, a rare recessive but unsuccessful gene.
 
When Tigress Julie abandoned her litter of 3 cubs, I was bitterly disappointed to say the least. To have watched her raise normal and white cubs to maturity, would have been a fascinating experience.
 
However, a philosopher friend of mine, pointed out to me, that perhaps the best role for "Shine" the white tiger cub, is as an ambassador for her species.
 
Julie has given us human beings a rare gift, lets make the best of this rare opportunity.
 
If she makes it back into the wilds, she will be the only free ranging white tiger in the world. This would be a truly remarkable achievement. 
 
We shall see and time will tell.

Tread lightly on the earth
JV 

 


Guest to Tiger Canyons have for the next 10 months the rare opportunity of hunting and swimming in the lake with Shine, Sunda and Zaria, the tiger cubs.

For details contact:
Sunette:
Tel 051 773 0063
Cell 082 89 24680
Email: s.f@vodamail.co.za

 

 

Tread lightly on the Earth

info@jvbigcats.co.za
Copyright 2007 @jvbigcats  All rights reserved


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