Politicians share space with white tigers on hoardings put up across Rewa, Madhya Pradesh, in preparation for the opening of the world’s first white tiger sanctuary. As thousands converged for the inauguration on Sunday, shouting slogans, the ceremony began to resemble an election rally. Fairly so, for locals say the white tiger has been an election issue here for years now.
The 25-hectare sanctuary at Mukundpur, 20km from Rewa, is currently home to only one white tiger, Vindhya. There are two others in an adjoining zoo. Locals in Rewa consider the white tiger — the colour of whose coat is the result of a genetic aberration — a part of the city’s legacy. The first such big cat was spotted here by erstwhile king Martand Singh in 1951. The royal family named him Mohan, and he became “a pet, a family member”, says Pushpraj Singh, Martand’s son. Mohan’s cubs were thereafter distributed to zoos in India and abroad. They were reportedly inbred to create a white tiger progeny. But they disappeared completely from Rewa in 1976.
It has been a political issue since because locals associate it with their heritage and believe tourism revenue generated from their return can prove a turnaround for a parched city. The sanctuary was inaugurated by Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar and CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Javadekar said the sanctuary would bring a “7-star status” to Rewa and promised to set aside funds for a safari. Chouhan added that the project would bring jobs as tourists pour in.
Wildlife experts, though, have been critical of white tiger breeding, and believe it’s a waste of money since it has no conservation value. Though the colour of the tiger’s coat is admired by many, its camouflaging ability is actually compromised, they point out.
“The rest of the world decided a decade ago not to breed white tigers. Creating a sanctuary is just entertainment and fun,” said Raghu Chundawat, a conservation biologist.
White tigers have been repeatedly inbred to preserve the colour of the coat, and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums is strictly against breeding practices to increase the physical expression of rare traits “through intentional inbreeding”. “…For example intentional breeding to achieve rare color-morphs such as white tigers, deer, and alligators, has been clearly linked with various abnormal, debilitating, and, at times, lethal conditions,” it said in a paper.
Ecologists also complain that while such projects are showcased, conservation is compromised elsewhere. The MP government recently cleared a large diamond mine inside prime forests near Panna. The MoEF’s nod is awaited but, if cleared, the project may spell doom for tigers. The other concern is the Ken-Betwa river linking project that is likely to submerge a large part of the Panna habitat, and could be devastating for tigers and gharials in the region.
Courtesy Citation : Indiatimes.com