Did you know there are nine subspecies of tiger, three of them already made extinct in the last century by the activities of man? Neither did I until now – but more on that later…
There is a story in the news at the moment about the plight of Siberian tigers. This has made me realise that for decades I had believed Siberian tigers were white tigers – maybe because I associated their whiteness with the ice and snow of the northern wastes…
But I was wrong, the white tigers in zoos are not Siberian tigers (Panthera tigris altaica) but Bengal tigers (Panthera tigris tigris). A tiger usually needs a particular recessive gene from both parents in order to turn out white and this doesn’t seem to be present in the Siberian gene pool.
This is not surprising when scientists consider the 500 or so remaining Siberian tigers seem to be descended from maybe 14 individuals.
There was another story today about the gift of two white tigers to Al Ain Wildlife Park in Abu Dhabi. These rarities seem to be popular as pets for the rich and famous.
The white variant is bigger than the standard Bengal tiger and there are several hundred in zoos all over the world, about 100 of those still in India. There are now thought to be no white tigers left in the wild.
In the 1960s when I was a child, we sometimes went by train through the Severn Tunnel to Bristol Zoo and this was where I picked up the guide book pictured here, featuring the latest acquisition on the front – one of a pair of beautiful white tigers. I remember that was the reason we went that day.
According to the guidebook:
“The white tigers which were purchased in June 1963 were the first pair ever to be exhibited in a Zoological Garden and at the present time are the only pair outside India”.
Elsewhere it says:
“In 1951 an entirely new device was tried for showing these animals [large cats] without the intervention of bars, by means of ‘invisible’ glass windows, and recently three-quarter-inch thick glass was used in the lower section of the new outside cage for the white tigers.”
I remember seeing the tigers in their glass-fronted cage and (more…)