The first white tiger to be born and raised successfully at the national zoo was killed Wednesday night by her new mate at the Columbus, Ohio, zoo where she had been on an indefinite loan for the last two years.

Rewati, who had lived at the home of national zoo Director Theodore H. Reed and his wife for two months after she was born in April 1969, was found dead about 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, according to Jack Hanna, director of the Columbus zoo.

"It's a great tragic loss for Columbus," Hanna said yesterday. "I feel very bad about it. Everybody here just grew to love Rewati."

The white tigress walked with a limp because of hereditary hip problems, but she was a "wonderful display specimen" nonetheless, Hanna said. Rewati was obtained by the Columbus zoo with the help of Reed's sister, a patron of that institution.

Six months ago, Hanna said, the Columbus zoo acquired a male white tiger, Ika, from a circus. At the time, Ika's leg was so badly infected that the circus owner had planned to have him put to sleep.

Hanna's voice filled with emotion as he told how the Columbus zoo had gone to great expense to save Ika, because "I didn't want Rewati to spend the rest of her days by herself in a cage.

"Though his right rear leg had to be taken off at the hip," Hanna said, "we saved the white tiger, and knew then that Rewati would have a mate."

A drive was launched to raise $25,000 to build a walled outside enclosure for the two tigers.

After six months of being kept in facing enclosures so they could become accustomed to one another, Rewati and Ika were put together two weeks ago, and they seemed a perfect match.

"They got along perfectly, not even a fight, nothing," Hanna said. "There was not one indication of any kind of problems."

After more than a week of the tigers' spending their days together, zoo officials decided to leave the animals together at night.

"Everything was okay until about 8 p.m. Wednesday night," Hanna said.

Preliminary autopsy reports showed that Ika bit Rewati's neck, breaking it and apparently killing the tigress instantly, Hanna said.

"We don't know what happened. They could have been playing. Unlike lions, tigers aren't very social and sometimes they play for keeps, or Rewati could have been in heat," he said.

Ika had no history of injuring other tigers, Hanna said. There are only about 20 white tigers in the United States, three of which are owned by the national zoo.

"The great irony is that we went and saved a white tiger and then he turned around and took his mate's life," Hanna said sadly.