New Delhi: Government has given 'in-principle' nod to set up a breeding centre for the endangered white tigers in Madhya Pradesh as part of conservation efforts.

An Environment and Forest Ministry official said the Central Zoo Authority has given 'in principle' approval for the breeding centre at Govindgarh in Madhya Pradesh, which has the unique distinction of being the home of white tigers.

"The Central Zoo Authority has initiated action for setting up a conservation breeding centre for white tiger at Govindgarh in Rewa through the state of Madhya Pradesh," the official said.

"You cannot see white tigers in the wild. They are in captivity only. There are 91 white tigers housed in 21 different Indian zoos," said Rajesh Gopal, Member Secretary, National Tiger Conservation Authority.

Asked if the government plans to set up a reserve exclusively for white tigers, Gopal said, "Not at present".

He cited various reasons including the doubts over the survival capacity of the rare cats in natural habitat.

The government preferred Madhya Pradesh to set up the conservation breeding centre as the last white tiger named Mohan was caught in the forests of Sidhi district (now the Sanjay-Dubri Tiger Reserve) in 1950 and reared by the erstwhile Maharaja of Rewa at Govindgarh. According to the Ministry's Project Tiger documents, there are many white tigers in captivity, though almost all of them have descended from the wild white Bengal tiger Mohan.

"Almost all of the captive white tigers in North America today have descended from Mohan and are highly inbred. Some white tigers have also been mated with other tiger subspecies, creating what are called hybrid tigers," says a Project Tiger document.

It says white tigers are not a separate subspecies of tiger.

"They are not from cold, snowy climates-they come from India. White is a very, very unusual colour for a wild tiger. Of the thousands of tigers in the wild, only a few are white," it says.

When Jairam Ramesh was the Environment Minister, he had offered technical and financial support to Madhya Pradesh to set up the facility in Madhya Pradesh