White tigers on public display for the first time in the UAE.
This weekend, Al Ain Wildlife Park and Resort (AWPR) inaugurated its new white tiger exhibit during an official opening ceremony, attended by members of the ruling families of Abu Dhabi Emirate and Dubai Emirate, AWPR board members and senior management team as well as other senior officials and government representatives.
As part of the ceremony, the senior management of AWPR extended its sincere thanks and gratitude to Shaikha Latifa Bint Rashid Bin Khalifa bin Saeed Al Maktoum for her generous donation of the two white tigers, the almost two-year old siblings (a female and a male) that were named Sugar and Spice by Shaikha Latifa when they were three-months old cubs.
Shaikha Latifa Bint Rashid Bin Khalifa Bin Saeed Al Maktoum said, "After long consideration I decided to donate Sugar and Spice to Al Ain Wildlife Park & Resort as I know they will take good care of them. The zoo has a great reputation for their spacious animal enclosures and world-class care for the animals. I am very excited to see the tigers now on exhibit and exploring their new home in the zoo's cathouse."
White tigers are a colour morph of the tiger, caused by the recessive gene 'chinchilla albinistic'. Contrary to popular belief, they are not albinos. White tigers are distinct because of their white coat and blue eyes. Records of the White tiger date back to the early 19th century.
Farshid Mehrdadfar, Manager of the Animal Collection department at AWPR, said, "For the first time, White tigers will be on public display in the UAE and we are excited that the debut happens at our zoo, which has one of the largest collections of Big Cats worldwide. Our Animal Collection team worked very closely with the team of Shaikha Latifa Bint Rashid Bin Khalifa Bin Saeed Al Maktoum to make the relocation of these two precious White tigers from Dubai to Al Ain as smooth as possible. The two tigers spent some time in quarantine before moving into their new habitat today. It's great to see them being out exploring their new home, and I am sure that this new exhibit will add value to the visitor experience."
Dr. Michael Maunder, Chief of Conservation at AWPR, added, "White tigers only exist in zoos and animal collections and their popularity makes them ideal ambassadors for the tiger. Wild tigers are in urgent need for protection, preservation and conservation. Out of the nine known subspecies, three are extinct with the remaining six being either endangered or critically endangered. The display of these White tigers will promote increased public awareness about the desperate situation of tigers in the wild."
The existing subspecies vary in their body size, coat colour and distinct markings.
· Bengal Tiger: Endangered. The most abundant subspecies of tiger, found primarily in India and Bangladesh. It lives in varied habitats (grasslands, subtropical and tropical rainforests, scrub forests, wet and dry deciduous forests, and mangroves). While conservationists already believed the population to be below 2,000, the most recent audit by the Indian Government's National Tiger Conservation Authority has estimated the number at just 1,411 wild tigers, a drop of 60% in the past decade. Since 1972, there has been a massive wildlife conservation project, known as Project Tiger, to protect the Bengal tiger. Despite increased efforts by Indian officials, poaching remains rampant.
· Indochinese Tiger, also called Corbett's tiger: Endangered. Found in Cambodia, China, Laos, Burma, Thailand, and Vietnam. Their preferred habitat is forests in mountainous or hilly regions. Estimates of the Indochinese tiger population vary between 1,200 and 1,800. All existing populations are at extreme risk from poaching, prey depletion as a result of poaching of primary prey species such as deer and wild pigs, habitat fragmentation and inbreeding. In Vietnam, almost three-quarters of the tigers killed were for the illegal trade in traditional medicine.
· Malayan Tiger: Endangered. Exclusively found in the southern part of the Malay Peninsula, was not considered a subspecies in its own right until 2004. Recent counts showed there are 600-800 tigers in the wild, making it the third largest tiger population, behind the Bengal tiger and the Indochinese tiger.
· Sumatran Tiger: Critically endangered. Found only on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The wild population is estimated at between 400 and 500, seen chiefly in the island's national parks. Recent genetic testing has revealed the presence of unique genetic markers, indicating that it may develop into a separate species if it does not go extinct. This has led to suggestions that Sumatran tigers should have greater priority for conservation than any other subspecies. Habitat destruction and fragmentation is the main threat to existing tiger population and also illegal hunting. From 1998-2002 at least 51 tigers per year were killed, with 76% for purposes of illegal trade and 15% as a result of human-tiger conflict.
· Siberian Tiger, also known as the Amur or Manchurian tiger: Endangered. The northern-most subspecies is confined to the Amur-Ussuri region of Primorsky Krai and Khabarovsk Krai in far eastern Siberia, where it is now protected. The last two censuses (1996 and 2005) found 450-500 Amur tigers within their single, and more or less continuous, range making it one of the largest undivided tiger populations in the world.
· South China Tiger, also known as the Amoy or Xiamen tiger: the most critically endangered subspecies of tiger and listed as one of the 10 most endangered animals in the world. From 1983 to 2007, no South China tigers were sighted. In 1977, the Chinese government passed a law banning the killing of wild tigers, but this may have been too late to save the subspecies, since it is possibly already extinct in the wild. There are currently 59 known captive South China tigers, all within China, but these are known to be descended from only six animals. Currently, there are breeding efforts to reintroduce these tigers to the wild.
Bali Tiger, hunted to extinction. The last Balinese tiger is thought to have been killed at Sumbar Kima, West Bali on 27 September 1937. No Balinese tiger was ever held in captivity.
Javan Tiger, was limited to the Indonesian island of Java. It now seems likely that this subspecies became extinct in the 1980s, as a result of hunting and habitat destruction. The last confirmed specimen was sighted in 1979, but there were a few reported sightings during the 1990s.
Caspian Tiger, also known as the Persian tiger or Turanian tiger, was the western-most population of Siberian tiger, found in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, the Caucasus, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan until it apparently became extinct in the late 1950s, though there have been several alleged more recent sightings of the tiger. Though originally thought to have been a distinct subspecies, genetic research in 2009 suggests that the animal was largely identical to the Siberian tiger.
AWPR runs a series of conservation projects for desert gazelles and antelopes as well as desert carnivores. AWPR has one of the largest wild cat collections worldwide comprising African lion, Arabian leopard, sand cat, cheetah, caracal, puma, jaguar and tiger.
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CITES, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, was passed in 1973. This is when India also started a tiger habitat conservation plan, mostly with the help of Indira Ghandi and WWF. China passed its ineffectual law four years later.