As onlookers gathered outside a Delhi Zoo enclosure, where a Royal Bengal tiger was in the middle of a siesta and the white tigress tiptoed around, a guard holding a lathi informed a family: “Inki shaadi ho gayi hai.” Word soon spread and the crowd waited for the newest couple in the zoo to put up a show.
After 27 years, the Delhi Zoo was home to a rare sight — of a yellow-striped Royal Bengal tiger mating with a white tiger. “They were introduced to each other two days ago, in a private enclosure… we wanted to see if they have chemistry, will they fight or not. They sniffed each other and seem to get along. Yesterday, we got them married,” said Renu Singh, director of the Delhi Zoo.
The male, a five-year-old yellow-striped tiger, named Karan, was brought to the Delhi Zoo in March 2014 from Mysore Zoo. The three-year-old white tiger, renamed Nirbhaya by the zoo director when the rape ordinance came through last month, was born here in 2015 — to Vijay (the white tiger who killed a man in 2014) and Kalpana.
“The last time this was done at the Delhi Zoo was in 1991, when Royal Bengal tiger Sundar and white tiger Shanti mated. They had two offsprings, one white and one yellow,” said Singh.
The zookeepers are keeping a vigil on the new couple, and also counting the number of times they mate. “On Monday, they mated nine times, and six times on Tuesday. If the tigress conceives, we can expect cubs by September,” said Singh.
The Delhi Zoo has seven white tigers — five female and two male — and five Royal Bengal tigers. This mating is being facilitated, according to Singh, to “introduce better genes, better offspring”.
According to Mayukh Chatterjee of Wildlife Trust of India, “there are rarely any white tigers in the wild because they can’t camouflage due to the white coat, and they are leucistic tigers, which means a partial loss of pigmentation. Most white tigers are in zoos, and in order to increase the population of the white tigers, this kind of mating is done. Instead of facilitating a match between the same variant in another zoo, it’s easier to mate with another variant in the same zoo.”
At the Delhi Zoo, onlookers whistled at the big cats, took selfies with the two in the background, and seemed easily amused by the presence of two differently coloured tigers in the same enclosure. If the tigress conceives, the cubs are bound to attract crowds in the monsoon. Sanjay Kumar, DIG, National Tiger Conservation Authority, said, “There is no guarantee that the offspring will be white only. They could be mixed or yellow or white. There is no natural selection inside zoos, so these things have to be facilitated. We will have to wait and watch.”
For now, there is little privacy the two tigers have in the daytime, with zookeepers and onlookers vigilant, and curious, about every move.