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Monday, July 10, 2017

INDIA: White tiger spotted in Nilgiris? No big deal!

  • Well, the jury on that is out now, and the verdict is - no big deal. It could be just an instance of an aberrant genetic mutation, say experts.
Last week, a lone white tiger was spotted in the Nilgiris in south India. It had caused great excitement, as white or bleached tigers are usually found in India only in Bengal, Assam, Sunderbans and Bihar, in the east and north of India.

Well, the jury on that is out now, and the verdict is - no big deal. It could be just an instance of an aberrant genetic mutation, say experts. In other words the 15 seconds' fame that the Nilgiris tiger got was due to a pigment variation and not because it was a "pure bred white tiger"."No pale tiger has been recorded in south India so far," said Yadvendradev Jhala, wildlife scientist who heads the department of animal ecology and conservation biology at the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun. "However, this one seems to be just a normal tiger with an aberrant genetic mutation, so it is not of great conservation value per se," he said.

It is not clear what exactly to make of these observations because there are other experts who say the Indian white tiger is a pigmentation variant of the Bengal tiger, which is spotted in the wild often. According to them then there is no "pure white tiger".

The Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve, where the pale tiger was photographed to wild exclamations by tiger fans, comprises the Mudumalai-Bandipur-Nagarhole-Wayanad complex, which is home to the world's largest wild tiger population.

A large population of tigers facilitate genetic mutations. The tiger territory in south India is contiguous, which allows for mobility and random breeding.

Says tiger expert K. Ullas Karanth: "Excess melanin causes black tigers, such as the ones in Simlipal in Odisha. However, with so many fake and modified photos/videos going around, I do not want to comment on this specific case as there is very little detail as to the time and place." So then it could also mean that the spotted white tiger is from a post-truth, alternative reality, which just might mean it does not exist.

In 2013, Chinese scientists had sequenced genomes of white and normally-coloured Bengal tigers and found that a very small mutation in a single pigment gene - SLC45A2 - caused the white coloration. But eumelanin pigments - which produce black and brown shades - are not affected, they showed, which explains the dark eyes and black stripes of the tigers.

According to one expert, all white tigers in captivity across the world trace their origins to one of the last "pure" white tigers in the wild, a male named Mohan with blue eyes and pink nose and paw-pads, which was captured from Rewa in Madhya Pradesh in 1951.

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