Thursday, November 20, 2008

An Unnatural Fate

An unusual and unfortunate incident happened at the Singapore Zoo on 13 Nov.

A zoo cleaner was attacked and mauled to death by the 3 Bengal White Tigers when he was in the enclosure. It is unknown why he went close to the animals but he was reportedly acting erratic.

I visited the zoo last year and the White Tigers were one of my favorites. The big cats were of an unusual coloration and that added a dash of mystery on their regal build. The Singapore Zoo adopts a rather open and 'cage-free' concept and thanks to that, I was able to observe the tigers up close. It was captivating to see them lazing sedately, hardly exhibiting any beastly instinct.

The Bengal White Tigers are usually found in India. Only one White Tiger exists in every 10,000 normal orange-coloured tigers, making them truly rare and amazing. The white coloration of the White Tigers is a result of gene mutation which can be passed from one generation to another. It is possible that both white and orange-colored tigers can be found in a litter. White Tigers grow faster and heavier than their orange relatives.

The White Tigers are often mistaken as albinos, which are completely white with pink eyes. Unlike the White Tigers, the albino tigers do not have any stripes.

There are several hundred White Tigers in the world and all of whom can trace their ancestry back to "Mohan", a White Bengal Tiger caught in India in 1951. There is an interesting story to the origin of all the White Tigers we see today.

One of the royalties in India had killed a white tigress and 3 of the 4 cubs. He had offered his guest to shoot the remaining white cub but he declined. He captured the white cub and named him "Mohan". All the White Tigers in the world today are the descendants of this cub.

The White Tigers are subject to extreme inbreeding because of the demand for their rare coloration. The only way to ensure white cubs is to have 2 white parents. If a White Tiger is bred with an orange-colored tiger, only half of the offspring will be white. Therefore, breeders prefer to breed 2 White Tigers.

Inbreeding is not natural and can lead to deformities, early deaths and still births. This has prompted some animal rights activists to call for a halt to the breeding of White Tigers altogether.

There are only a small quantity of white tigers in existence. The inevitable inbreeding problems have raged an on-going debates over the wisdom of breeding this animal. There are rising angry voices shaming the integrity of zoos which produce White Tigers for economic rather than conservation reasons.

I confess that I enjoy watching the White Tigers in captivities. I am curious of their rarity and I admire their elegance. Our thirst for such rare sights has prompted unscrupulous breeder to continue to breed White Tigers together. I am saddened by the fact that so many white cubs died or suffered in breeding programs just so that we get to feast our eyes and quench our curiosity.

After the attack incident, the White Tiger enclosure in the zoo was temporarily closed as 2 of the 3 tigers exhibited signs of stress. Barely a week later, the enclosure was reopen. This time round, more curious eyes were attracted to the exhibit, and probably adding more trauma to the big cats.

Perhaps, we should just leave the tigers in the wild, where they belong.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

No comments: