WHITE CIRCUS TIGERS - OBIE AND THE MYSTERIOUS 1975 LITTER OF SIX
Historical quotations are credited and are in the public domain. Original text is licensed under the GFDL. I am grateful to Paul McCarthy and Jerry Blackman for researching and providing extensive material, information and corrections on white tigers and for genealogies.
White Tiger Genealogies from Mohan to Modern Day
Circus White Tigers: Susie - Matriarch of a White Tiger Line
Circus White Tigers: Takila/Chequila & Tony - Patriarch of a White Tiger Line; Maharanee/Maharani
Circus White Tigers: Siegfried and Roy's Tigers
Circus White Tigers: Obie and the Mysterious 1975 Litter of Six
Circus White Tigers: The 1984 White Tiger Cubs Theft Case
Current Day - Spread Of White Tigers In Zoos - Too Many To Count
Reintroducing White Tigers Into The Wild?
White Tiger Studbook and Bibliography
Ivan M Henry of the Great London Circus ("George Matthews Great London Circus" owned by Sid Kellner) claims to have had a white tiger cub called Boris in 1975. The parents were Baron Julius Von Uhl's tigers Raja and Sheba II, whom Henry trained for von Uhl. According to him, Sheba II produced a litter of 6 (or 7) cubs, while the circus was in Waco, Texas (May/June 1975), but rejected them and Henry successfully hand-reared all 6 cubs. He claimed there were 2 white cubs, Boris and Tasha, given Russian names because of their Amur ancestry, plus a third female white cub called Ziggy and three orange cubs (genders unknown). He claimed the white cubs were sold to Siegfried & Roy. A circus paper reported that von Uhl's Sheba II had three cubs on May 24th, 1975 in Fairfield, California which makes the May/June 1975 birth date and location given for Boris, Tasha, Ziggy and 3 orange cubs impossible. It appears to be a circus tall tale that changes with each retelling.
Further details of this litter werre that there was a perfect blue-eyed striped white female (Natasha), a pink-eyed striped white male (Boris) and a pink-eyed white female (Ziggy). These claims - 3 white cubs and 3 orange cubs - have remained constant (a much later verbal claim of 7 cubs can be considered a slip of memory). But .... they are not mentioned in any newspaper reports and all information traces back to Ivan M Henry and conflicts with documented facts. In addition, publicity-hungry von Uhl never mentioned the supposed litter of 6 in any of news interviews and such a large litter, including pink-eyed cubs, would have been big news! Ivan Henry claimed all of the handreared cubs survived.
Trying to piece a timeline together we find (in support of Ivan Henry’s account):
On March 24, 1975 Von Uhl was with the Harold Bros. Circus and Ivan Henry was with the George Matthews Circus (chimp act). The April 21, 1975 Circus Report said that the George Matthews Great London Circus (and several additional acts) played the Shrine Circus date on April 12-13. The second day of that event was billed as "Polack Bros presents the George Matthews Great London Circus" while other advertising and tickets carried the Polack name. The Shrine Circus was both the Polack Bros Circus and the George Matthews Great London Circus for those two days.
The May 19, 1975 The Circus Report says that Von Uhl was in Hartford, Connecticut in late May with the Sphinx Shrine Circus. On May 18, 1975 the George Matthews Great London Circus (American Circus Corp.) was in Tulsa, Oklahoma, then no reports of location until Houston, Texas on June 4-8, 1975. The Polack Bros Circus was in Fairfield, Solano County, California (not far from San Francisco) on May 24, 1975, and Vallejo, California on May 26, then Las Vegas from June 13-15. Ivan Henry could have been with Von Uhl in Fairfield, California on May 24, 1975, but had to leave and go to Texas (as he claimed), and the cubs could not have been born at Elkhart, Indiana or Waco, Texas. The June 23rd, 1975 The Circus Report says that Baron Julius Von Uhl was with Polack Bros. Circus and that his act comprised 5 lions and 2 tigers (three of his tigers were not with him on that occasion).
Henry and von Uhl were together in April of 1975 the month before Sheba II had her cubs when the two circuses merged briefly from April 12-13. Henry said he had to leave the cubs and go to Texas right after those cubs were born, and that he should have kept the cubs because von Uhl didn't appear to know what he was doing (seemingly stimulating them to defecate and urinate was not something he liked to do). Although all the cubs survived with Henry, he didn’t know what became of them afterwards. Von Uhl had an extremely high cub mortality rate.
The claim that Sheba II had 6 cubs, including 3 white cubs, in Waco, Texas in the Great London Circus in Spring 1975 causes a confusion, but imprecise reporting adds to the confusion over exactly how many white tigers were born in circuses in the 1970s, and where they were born (sometimes on the road between circus dates).
Julius von Uhl stated (in newspaper articles) that Tony was his first white tiger cub. He later on confirmed that he had a white tiger cub born in 1973, which "is performing with another circus," i.e. Tony, which we know to be his first white tiger. According to The Circus Report, August 6, 1973, page 8 Who's Who. "Baron Julius Von Uhl has a white tiger cub, which was born in Elkhart, Indiana. It is the seventh known to be in the country." The previous white tigers in the USA were (barring infant mortalities) 1 - Mohini, 2 - Rajkumar, 3 - Rewati, 4 - Princess, 5 - Moni, 6 – Bagheera, and the 7th was Tony. So there are multiple confirmations of Tony's birth.
In some 1976 cuttings, when announcing the birth of 2 white cubs, Julius Von Uhl said: "Raja has fathered other white cubs" (plural) suggesting there were earlier white cubs in addition to the two born in 1976 (Maharani and "Baltimore County Fair"), and one born in 1973 (Tony). Von Uhl also said that he had one (Tony) born in 1973 three years earlier, which implied there weren't any SURVIVING white cubs born to Raja and Sheba II in 1974 or 1975. In a “Behind The Big Top”article von Uhl said this was the third litter he had raised in captivity and that the real reason for separating the cats is the fear the mother might accidentally roll over and kill one of them. "It has happened before." If we assume this means his third litter of tiger cubs (his lions were all males) then Raja and Sheba II (born in 1966) could have had litters in 1969, 1970, 1971 or 1972.
Chart 3.1: Radja and Sheba II's Offspring
There are many newspaper articles about the birth of white tiger cubs at the Baltimore County Fair on June 27, 1976. Several of them mentioned that Sheba had a white cub (singular) three years previously [Tony in 1973] (which also disproves Wade Burck’s claim that Tony was born in 1970). Ivan Henry claimed he knew of no litters from Sheba prior to 1975, but he was actually mentioned in the 1973 newspaper article and there is a colour photo of him holding (and feeding) a white tiger cub, supposedly taken in 1975 (though it could be a photo of Tony from 1973). Henry says he's holding Natasha in the picture. The circus tent behind him appears bluish grey and yellow striped (Polack Bros. and George Matthews circuses both have tents with pinkish and white stripes).
Von Uhl would not have missed a chance of publicity for his white tigers, but he never mentioned any white cubs born in the Great London Circus cubs in newspaper reports. Ivan Henry claimed that all the cubs survived (while he had them), and that the three white tiger cubs were sold to Siegfried and Roy. He knew Siegfried and Roy, but they don't seem to have had white tigers back then, unless the purported cubs died after being promised (or sold) to them.
The Circus Report, page 3, June 2nd, 1975, Number 22 tells us "Baron Julius Von Uhl's tiger is the mother of three cubs born at Fairfield (Cal) on May 24th." This gives the date, place, and composition of the litter (which included Obie), and makes no reference to any white cubs. An article in The Centralia Daily Chronicle, Washington, 29th July, 1975 showed Von Uhl holding an orange “Siberian” tiger cub (probably Obie), and mentions the sale of a white tiger for $20,000 (Tony).
The other possibility – which fits with the timeline and the mortality rate - is that Obie had 5 or 6 siblings including the 3 white tiger cubs and that he did indeed hand-rear them, but for some reason the white cubswere never mentioned again. This seems unlikely. It's more likely that memory has conflated several litters. At the time the 6 cubs were supposedly born, the Polack Bros Circus was in town, not the Great London Circus. In the 1973 article, "Behind The Big Top", Daily Herald Suburban, 31st August, 1973, it confirms that Von Uhl was with Polack Bros Circus.
Sheba II and Sheba III started having white tiger cubs in 1972 and 1973, which is exactly the same time frame that Ivan Henry gives for the other purported owners of white tigers – this is exactly when Susie's cubs would be old enough to start having their own cubs.
Without documentary evidence, the claim of white cubs at the Great London Circus and going to Siegfried and Roy should be regarded with caution. It seems likely the cubs were Obie’s siblings and di not survive.
Most white tiger websites have a pro- or anti-agenda and variously claim to give “facts,” “truths” or debunk “myths” but give misinformation or have hidden agendas. I stick to facts and deductions based on facts. Some information is documented, some is from personal correspondence with zoos, and some is from the recollections or personal notes of people involved with circus or zoo tigers where records were have been lost or destroyed. Even the different editions of tiger studbooks are inconsistent. Information from my pages, which are frequently updated, is widely copied on those other sites. Some sites have tried to claim I copied their work.
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