Sheer Khan


Photo by David Robert

Khan is Animal Ark’s white Bengal tiger. Now, Khan would have you know that a white tiger is not a specific breed of tiger, but rather the indication of a rare recessive trait, like the recessive quality of being a true blonde. Khan weighs in around 400 pounds and has paws the size of an outstretched hand. Before he came to the sanctuary, he was a show tiger, but he ended his illustrious career early, and today the 4-year-old exotic feline is employed simply as an educational tool. Khan’s eyes do not stray from me for more than a second or two during the course of the interview, which makes me wonder about my spot on the food chain. For more information about Animal Ark wildlife sanctuary, visit or call (775) 970-3111.

So, what do you eat?

I eat a raw meat diet, which is as close to nature as I can get. Right now I eat a little more than 10 pounds a day.

How rare is it to be a white tiger?

In the wild, extremely rare. In captivity, common, because people breed for it. Facilities will pay big money for guys like me. So, we’re horribly inbred and quite frequently you’ll have cubs that are born with terrible birth defects. There’s no breeding that goes on here though. It’s not the keepers’ philosophy. We’re a sanctuary, not a zoo.

You’re just sitting staring at me, are you ever active?

Sure. The heat is hard on me, though. In the cold, you’ll see me more active. In the snow, I root and run and roll and play. I have a pool that’s filled in the warm weather. The caretakers also make things interesting for me by hiding meat pieces or scents, like perfumes. I love fragrances; in fact, what are you wearing?

I’m not telling you. I see you have a broken tooth.

Yeah, I do have a canine tooth that snapped off. I did that on the wire. I was frustrated by the hot wire, and I bit at it. The rest of my teeth are fine, though. They don’t de-claw us or file down our teeth here.

Why’s the hot wire there?

I enjoy the activity of all the kids that come. I watch everything. The caretakers have to be careful not to let the kids run or climb on the fences because I will fixate on the littler children … or even adults that move differently, like with a limp. If a child gets through the security fencing and up to the chain link fence, the hot wire is extra protection to keep me from getting too close.

Do you ever catch rabbits that come through the fence?

Yeah. Jackrabbits, ground squirrels, snakes, blackbirds.

I think I’d like a big pet kitty like you at home.

I’m not a pet. I’m a wild animal.

[Answers provided by Animal Ark caretaker Jan Alaksa]