The Lowry Park Zoo just acquired two white tigers from a failed private breeder. Why are there private breeders of tigers? Why are they breeding white tigers? White tigers have no conservation value, so the Association of Zoos and Aquariums does not have a “Species Survival Plan” for them. But these cats have captured the public’s imagination.
If people knew what goes into breeding white tigers, however, they would be appalled. The white coloration comes from a double recessive allele. The only way to get that coloration consistently is by inbreeding — otherwise the dominant alleles would overpower the recessive ones and the tigers would not be white. That — along with the fact white tigers do not survive long in the wild — is why they are so rare in the wild. To get one perfect white tiger that is display-quality, there are many orange tigers born that will be discarded (because they’re not white) — not to mention all the deformed tigers and/or tigers that die in infancy because of the inbreeding.
Any person or facility that claims to be breeding white tigers for conservation purposes is deceiving the public. Florida is home to many breeders and self-proclaimed “sanctuaries” that breed animals for display in their facilities or to drag around the country to appear at fairs/flea markets/shopping centers. When they can no longer perform that function, they are discarded. The only motive for breeding white tigers is profit.
I was disappointed that the article on the Lowry Park Zoo’s new residents failed to cover the dark side of this story.
REFERENCES ON WHITE TIGERS:
“No stamp of approval for white tiger postal stamp,” by Ronald L. Tilson, Species Coordinator, Siberian Tiger SSP Minnesota Zoo Apple Valley, Minnesota in the journal “Zoo Biology,” Volume 11, Issue 2, 1992. Pages 71-73
From the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s web site, here is an excerpt from a story about what Zoo New England is doing to educate people about captive tigers (white and otherwise):
“The existence of tigers in private hands has become increasingly problematic. It is estimated that 5,000 to 7,000 tigers are in private hands in the United States – more than the total number in the wild. Most are hybrids with unknown lineage. Headlines abound with a staggering number of injuries and fatalities caused by tiger attacks. With the new exhibit, Zoo New England hopes to educate visitors that these animals never fully lose their predatory instinct and should only be housed with professionals.
The other important educational mission the Zoo hopes to serve with the new exhibit is debunking the myths surrounding white tigers. White tigers themselves are not endangered; they are an aberrant genetic color variation produced by inbreeding. Both parents must carry the rare recessive gene to produce white offspring.
White tigers in North America are all descended from one male captured in 1951 who was purposefully bred with his own offspring to produce the first white cubs. White coloration would be a beacon in the forest and therefore a white tiger would very rarely survive.
In addition, inbreeding causes genetic maladies like hip dysplasia in dogs or hemophilia and Turner’s syndrome in humans. According to some sources, 80 percent of white cubs die. Surviving cubs often have a range of problems including immune system deficiencies, scoliosis, cleft palates, mental impairments and/or bulging, crossed eyes.
It is estimated that one white cub in 10,000 births might occur naturally. None have been documented in the wild since 1951.”