AL AIN // Two white tigers have been gifted to the Al Ain Wildlife Park and Resort (AWPR) by a member of Dubai's ruling family. Sugar and Spice, a female and male, both two years old, were put on display last night.
The gift by Sheikha Latifa Bint Rashid bin Khalifa means AWPR is the only zoo in the GCC to have white tigers on display.
Raised at the Royal Palace in Dubai since they were three months old, the tigers are domesticated and quite tame, according to the veterinarian that cared for them at the palace. A promotional DVD shows the teenaged Royal Family member at home petting them as they nuzzle up to her like any domesticated house cat.
"They are very sociable and tame," said Dr Mohammed Thenayan, who helped to care for the cubs. "They are very used to being around people and were roaming in the palace until the age of four months, but then they got to be quite large.
"At the palace we had a proper enclosure for them with an indoor and outdoor room and a pool. When they reached the age of two, Sheikha Latifa decided that we should donate them to the zoo, as she wanted others to share in the joy."
White tigers exist only in zoos around the world, with none in the wild. They are a colour morph of the tiger, caused by the recessive gene chinchilla albinistic. Contrary to popular belief, they are not albinos and are distinct because of their white coat and blue eyes.
"Wild tigers are in urgent need for protection, preservation and conservation," said Dr Michael Maunder, the chief of conservation at AWPR. "Out of the nine known sub-species, 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."
For Sheikha Latifa, who came to see her tigers at AWPR yesterday, the reunion was bittersweet.
"After long consideration I decided to donate Sugar and Spice to Al Ain Wildlife Park and Resort as I know they will take good care of them. I am sad that they are gone as I have had many wonderful memories with them," she said. "But to see them here in an enclosure that resembles the wild and one bigger than the one we had them in at home makes me happy. I am sure they will be happy here."
AWPR was happy to have the rare white tigers in its vast collection of endangered species. Last year the zoo acquired two white lions.
"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," said Farshid Mehrdadfar, manager of the animal collection department at AWPR.