Anything and everything anytime
Although many big cats, like their diminutive domestic cousins, are none too fond of soggy fur and wet whiskers, tigers positively thrive in the water, and are often found enjoying a bath in rivers and ponds. Far from shunning water, the biggest of the big cats actively seek it out, with cooling temperatures a perfect tonic to the extreme heat of the day in much of Asia. Tigers are also powerful swimmers, capable of travelling up to 4 miles in the water and commonly seen carrying their kills across lakes.
So much for the swimming skills of tigers in the wild, but what about those of the creatures that find themselves in the arms of captivity? Well, the same rules apply, except that man-made bodies of water become each beast’s watering hole, and there are probably one or two more spectators than these naturally shy cats would prefer. Not so in the case of Odin, though, the famous white Bengal tiger living in Six Flags Discovery Kingdom Zoo in Vallejo, near San Francisco.
Odin seems purr-fectly suited to the watery stage and can be watched in action diving daily for his meals in a large pool with glass walls – built to allow visitors to watch him gliding through the water with, says one British newspaper, “all the grace of a polar bear”. Now 8 years old, Odin has been making a spectacle of himself for quite some time, and with his pictures pasted all over the Web, this superlative swimmer’s popularity shows no signs of waning.
Odin was hand-reared at the zoo and once weaned, his trainer Lee Munroe soon discovered his talent for jumping in after chunks of meat thrown into a pool of water. Like other tigers – apart from the vegetarian variety – Odin loves the taste of fleshy goodness probably even more than he does a cool dip in the afternoon. But by no means every big cat will dive and swim underwater – even for meat treats – and that includes other tigers and jaguars, who also like the water.
Clearly Six Flags saw an opportunity for making their already exceptional looking white Bengal tiger even more of a crowd pleaser. Ten-foot long from nose to tail, and with the super sharp claws and teeth of all tigers, Odin is in many ways like others of his kin. The only major difference of course is that he is white. Neither an albino nor a distinct subspecies, the white tiger is a tiger with an unusual genetic combination – a recessive gene – that creates its pale coloration.
White tigers are incredibly rare in the wild, the last one seen there having been shot in 1958. There are dozens in zoos, but with the inbreeding of these popular beasts to preserve their special trait, white tigers are more likely to be born with physical defects such as cleft palates and curvature of the spine. That said, the future looks bleaker still for the species as a whole, as an estimated world population of 100,000 tigers at the start of the 20th century has shrunk to about 2,000 in the wild.
As we face up to the tragic possibility that within our lifetimes, zoos might be the only places left to observe these majestic animals, one final word about Odin to lighten the mood. Lest the tiger-phobes demonise him for his frightening expressions, it seems the funny faces he pulls are actually to stop water from going up his nose. Awww. Is an oversized clothes peg out of the question?