The White Bengal Tiger
The white Bengal tiger is not actually a species within it’s own right. Instead, it is a result of inbreeding and genetics of the orange Bengal tiger. The first discovery of a white Bengal was back in 1915 in India, when a white tigress was shot and killed, and amongst her four cubs was a white one. In 1948, the Maharaja of Rewa was determined to capture a white tiger, just as his father had done in 1915, and once a cub was caught, he housed it in a palace that wasn’t being used. This tiger was called ‘Mohan’. The white tigers of today are all descendents of this cub.
Characteristics of the White Bengal Tiger
White tigers are considered full-grown once they reach 2-3 years old, and the male can reach up to 10 ft. (3 meters) in length and a weight of around 507 lb. (230 kg). The females are smaller, with a length of 8 ft. (2.5 meters) long, and a weight of about 375 lb. (170kg). Just like there orange relatives, they have stripes all over them, and these are not just stripes of the fur, but are actually a pigmentation of their skin. On the back of their ears they have a large white spot, which resembles an eye, which is there to scare off any potential predators in the dark.
The white tigers grow much faster than the orange Bengal tigers, and are usually a lot heavier. Their icy blue eyes are unique, and their noses and paw pads are pink. The white Bengal tigers are a majestic animal, and they are quite stunningly beautiful to look at. Unlike most cats, the white Bengal’s like water, and are comfortable swimming, and although they don’t have a high stamina level, they can reach speeds of up to 37 mph (60 km per hour) when running. They do sleep quite a bit, averaging up to 18 hours per day!
White Tiger Behavior
These tigers are solitary animals, preferring to only associate during mating periods, or between mother tiger and her cubs. Scent marks and roaring is used to attract the male and female together, and once they have mated, they separate and no longer associate with each other. Both tigers must carry the gene to produce white offspring. The female is pregnant for about 3 and 1/2 months, and will usually birth up to 5 cubs at a time. These cubs can be white or orange, are blind at birth, and weigh about 1kg when born. By the time they are 2 months old they are starting to eat meat, and they are weaned off the mother’s milk at 4 months old. The cubs stay with their mother until they are around 18 months old, then set off for themselves.
Unlike lions, tigers tend to spend most of the day resting, and only venturing out to hunt at dusk, when it is cooler. They have very good eyesight, and excellent hearing which enables them to efficiently stalk their prey. Very few animals survive a tiger attack, as the attack is extremely quick, and the animal is often killed within a matter of seconds. The white tiger prefers to hunt larger animals, such as wild boar, cattle, deer and goats. As well as being very strong, the tiger also have very long and sharp teeth and claws.
The Bengal tiger is usually found in small areas of India, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh. The white tiger is very rarely seen in the wild due to the low occurrence of two tigers carrying the white gene actually mating in their natural habitat. The decline in numbers of the Bengal tiger in general, means that there will be even less white tigers produced, and this number is decreasing every day.
The natural habitat includes moist jungles with dense vegetation, and there needs to be a good supply of water. Other areas include tropical forests and mangrove swamps. Tigers occupy a territory that is quite large, and they mark the boundaries using claw marks on the trees and urine, just like a domestic cat. These territories can be up to 75 square miles in area. Interestingly, the male tigers territory may overlap that of a female, usually for hunting purposes, but the male will defend his territory from other males.
Genetics and Defects
Because the white coloration is the result of a genetic mutation, these tigers are sometimes born with various defects due to the inbreeding. A common defect is called strabismus, which is the crossing of the eyes. Interestingly, when confused or stressed, the eyes of every white tiger cross. The cubs from the same litter that are born orange do not suffer from strabismus, and this is because it is directly linked to the white gene. Because of this visual defect, white tigers are prone to walking into things until they become used to the defect and learn to compensate for it. The white tiger’s eyes are also greatly affected by bright light, meaning their vision is not as good as the orange tigers.
Another genetic defect sometimes seen, are problems with the legs and feet. This can include clubfoot, which is a disorder seen in humans, where the foot curves in instead of being straight. This can greatly affect the animal’s ability to run, climb and hunt. Also, the tendons of the forelegs are sometimes shortened, which impacts the mobility of the tiger.
Issues affecting the spine are a complication of the genetic makeup, and some tigers are born with a crooked spine, or arched back. This can also be seen in the neck area of the spine, resulting in a twisted neck. Another condition is called ‘star-gazing’, which is where the neck and the head are raised up straight, almost as if they are looking at the stars.
During surgical procedures in captivity, it has been noted that the white tiger is more susceptible to the effects of anesthesia, with sometimes disastrous results. A strange reaction to anesthesia sometimes seen in these cats is a re-sedation effect that can occur up to 36 hours later, which makes it seem as though the have been sedated again.
Although these birth defects are possible, it doesn’t mean that every white Bengal tiger will have one or all of them. Most of these don’t affect the lifespan of the tiger either, and in fact, the mortality rate of births is no different to those of the orange Bengal tiger. In captivity it has been noted that the white Bengal often has a shorter lifespan than the orange Bengal.
Because the white tiger is a subspecies of the orange Bengal tiger, it is listed under Bengal tiger by the IUCN. All Bengal tigers are endangered and considered to be severely threatened in their natural habitat. In the early 1900s, there were an estimated 100,000 tigers found in Asia, and today that number has decreased dramatically to only 8,000. Only 2,000 of these are the Bengal tigers.