While the white or golden tabby coloration of these animals may be pretty, what the zoos won't tell you is that, in reality, it's a deadly genetic mutation. THEY ARE NOT A SUBSPECIES, and are not albino.
The white gene is a double-recessive one caused mostly by inbreeding (in a natural mating, there is only a one in 10,000 chance that a tiger will be white), which is why they say that it exists 'only in captivity'. Zoos are not willing to wait for this one in 10,000 miracle tiger, and so find that the only other way to produce them is through inbreeding.
Even though it does happen naturally in the wild that tigers can be born white, there are many reports of wild tiger mothers attempting to smother their white cubs to death, because the coloration also makes the tigers more visible to prey. In a natural setting, white tigers and golden tabby tigers would starve to death, or die of other complications. This maternal behavior is noted even today in zoos, and often, white tigers must be taken from their mothers immediately after birth. The Singapore Zoo reported that one of their mother tigers refused to nurse her white cubs, so handlers had to raise the infant tiger themselves.
As further proof, white and golden tigers ARE NOT managed by the
Species Survival Plan, under the following reasons:
1) the Indian Zoo Association is responsible for managing the Bengal tiger, along with the European EEP;
2) most white tigers are of unknown lineage;
3) because the SSP is based upon maximizing genetic diversity. Selective breeding of an extremely rare allele for white coloration is not appropriate.
According to Dr. Ron Tilson, Conservation Director of the Minnesota Zoo and manager of the world renown Tiger Species Survival Plan, "The white tiger controversy among zoos is a small part ethics and a large part economics. The tiger Species Survival Plan has condemned breeding white tigers because of their mixed ancestry, most have been hybridized with other subspecies and are of unknown lineage, and because they serve no conservation purpose. Owners of white tigers say they are popular exhibit animals and increase zoo attendance and revenues as well. The same rationalization can be applied to the selective propagation of white lions, king cheetahs and other phenotypically aberrant animals."
What Dr. Tilson didn't fully understand was that the inbreeding went even beyond the Bengal tiger bloodline. To make white tigers even more visually-appealing to the public, they were cross-bred with Siberian tigers, which, according to information released by Daniel C. Laughlin, a widely-recognized manager of zoological animals, makes "white tigers in the U.S. crossbred or hybrid animals, part Siberian and part Bengal. So, in conclusion, every white tiger in the U.S. is not only the result of repeated inbreeding of genetically defective animals but, even worse, is a hybrid or crossbred animal. Thus, anyone involved in breeding and/or exhibiting white tigers is doing a great disservice to honest conservation and preservation efforts to save the five remaining and endangered subspecies of tigers barely clinging to survival in their rapidly diminishing natural habitats."
But it gets worse: Laws in the United States actually allow people to own tigers as pets under the condition that they have a permit. Since a white tiger cub can sell for an average of $60,000, people are creating these cats through inbreeding in captivity without any professional background or knowledge. According to some sources, 80 percent of these 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. (Source: www.itsyourtimes.com/?q=node/2647 )
Also, ALL WHITE TIGER ARE CROSS-EYED, even if it is not readily apparent. This is because the gene which makes them white also messes up the way their eyes are wired to their brains.
Other deformities include serious dental problems and deformed bone structure. Mental issues are probably the most common result (I watched at a roadside zoo here in Oregon as a white tiger licked a concrete wall until its tongue bled). Gnawing on fences or enclosure walls, pacing and constant salivation are other sure signs that the cat you are looking at suffers from the affects of its unfortunate ancestry.
Often, you will see photos of white tigers being fed milk from baby bottles, or sucking on their trainer's fingers during performances. Biologists believe that this a sign of prolonged stress in the animal, and that it has regressed back to acting like a dependent cub. This is not healthy and should NOT be encouraged.
Over all, it's a sad issue which is not being noted by the public enough to end it. Most zoos and safari parks won't even tell you about the inbreeding issue, or will claim that their white tigers were a 'natural' occurrence. But there have been no 'natural' white tiger births since 1951.
What these establishments are doing is wrong and immoral, and lying to the public about their tigers (or at least withholding the information from the public) shows quite obviously that they are not in it for the animals; they are in it for the money. Deliberately breeding an animal in the knowledge that its life will be unnecessarily painful is cruel, and is a practice that should have no place in modern animal care. White and golden tabby tigers are merely a product of the practice of inbreeding, and are not being bred for any sort of conservation program, regardless of what various zoos and other establishments claim. The Endangered Species Act does not classify golden tabby or white tigers as under threat; they are instead classified as a genetic variant. Tinkering with their genes in order to ‘improve’ them is just an act of vanity on the part of humans.
THE BEST THING YOU CAN DO TO HELP: Inquire at your local zoo as to where they got their white tigers, and let them know that you are aware of the issue noted above. Also, avoid roadside zoos which house white tigers, as these establishments are the most at fault for the inbreeding. But above all, education is the best means of helping the unfortunate plight of white tigers. Spreading the word of the inbreeding will make more people aware of the unfortunate plight.
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