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Great white hope

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FIRST FATHER: Mohan, who may have sired every white tiger in captivity

The erstwhile royal family of Rewa which raised a legendary white tiger, Mohan, says the MP government is playing politics with conservation efforts.

Mohan, " recalls Pushpraj Singh, "was a perfect gentleman. Quiet, restrained, disciplined and highly religious. " Mohan was a tiger, the world's first white tiger captured and domesticated by Pushpraj's father, the erstwhile ruler of Rewa, Martand Singh. Mohan was much more to Martand than a mere pet. Reared in his backyard, Mohan was a part of the family.

A prince-turned-politician (he was a former minister in Madhya Pradesh's last Congress-led government ), Pushpraj, 52, says he owes his three-decade-old passion for helping save near-extinct species to his time with Mohan. A member of the state's wildlife board, Pushpraj has also been the convener of the state Tiger Committee set up to improve tiger conservation in the state.

So, two years ago, when the Shivraj Singh Chauhan government proposed a breeding and rescue centre for white tigers in Satna district, Pushpraj and most residents of Rewa viewed it as an insult to Baghelkhand's tiger heritage. "To Rewa, the white tiger is what the Taj Mahal is to Agra. That Mohan was found in the nearby Sidhi forest more than 60 years ago proves this is their natural habitat. This is the only breeding ground for white tigers - Mohan fathered 29 cubs here. Any sarkari effort to set up a centre elsewhere is unacceptable to us, " he fumes.

Last month, the MP high court, deciding on a PIL, stayed the government move to relocate white tigers to the proposed centre in Satna. The court order also makes it mandatory for the government to consult Pushpraj Singh and 19 other petitioners, who had filed the PIL.

However, the order, it is feared, will act only as a short-term deterrent. "The battle over these white tigers, " says wildlife activist Ajay Dubey, "is a major cause of concern for wildlife lovers here. MP desperately needs a special body for tiger conservation and breeding. It is a pity the project has fallen prey to petty political rivalry and has been put on hold due to this royal family's allegiance to the Congress. "

Pushpraj denies playing tiger politics. Pushpraj would rather stress the "strong and time-honoured emotional bond people in Rewa share with this rarest-of-rare animals". He traces this history back to 1951, when his father Martand stumbled upon Mohan during a hunt in Sidhi forest near Govindgarh fort. The party had shot a tigress with four cubs and one of them, white, was captured alive by his men and brought back to Rewa. The cub found a new home in the sprawling Govindgarh palace, where a wire mesh enclosure on more than four acres of land was built for it. Pushpraj recalls the long stream of visitors trooping in to catch a glimpse of Mohan. Then a fable spread about the tiger - that he was a devotee of the sun god and fasted on Sundays.

So did he? Pushpraj swears by it. "Why else would he turn vegetarian on one day of the week, every Sunday ?" he asks. Mohan, he says, "would not even look at meat on that particular day and would survive only on milk. "

Mohan lived to the ripe old age of 19 years and seven months and fathered 29 cubs. In fact, there is the possibility, says the royal family, that every white tiger in captivity around the world is his descendant.
White tigers are beautiful and sensitive creatures, says Pushpraj, and they need good care. "Madhwa's forests, the proposed site, is not ecologically sound. The highly floodprone river Behar runs right through the earmarked area. Besides, its proximity to national highways 7 and 27, and also to a thermal power plant makes it hazardous for tigers, " he points out.

Former environment minister Jairam Ramesh, had in June 2011, written a letter to Shivraj Singh Chauhan stating that "Rewa has a unique distinction of being the home of a white tiger reared by the erstwhile maharaja in Govindgarh. It would be in fitness of things to set up the conservation and breeding centre for them in Govindgarh, which has historical significance in this region. "

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