White Tigers - A Natural Draw with Detractors

White Tigers - A Natural Draw with Detractors

Popular and Rare, Their Conservation Should be Questioned

White tigers raise the visitor factor at any zoo. While most facilities house the typically orange and black big cats, many vie for an opportunity to put these rarer color variances on display. Some even go to great efforts to provide breeding opportunities to produce more white tigers. Is that good? According to many experts, it is not. However, their power to draw crowds often outweighs the truths.

About the White Tiger

They're not albinos, but rather a product of genetic mutation, often achieved with inbreeding. Before birth, this mix-up of genes strips the orange coloration, leaving it with a ghostly aura. All white tigers have blue eyes (rather than the pink cast if they were albinos). In India, it's still believed by some that a white tiger sighting will bring good luck.

With regard to inbreeding, it began in India with the capture of a white tiger in 1951. Named "Mohan," the male was mated and produced a daughter named "Mohini." She was gifted to the United States and many of the cats you see today descended from this line. Brother-to-sister matings also occurred, which continued to produce the rare white coloration.

With inbreeding comes genetic issues, however. And white tigers may very well be proof that a wider gene pool is critical to a species' overall health. What you won't hear about are these health issues. The biggest recurring issues are hip dysplasia, physical deformities and neurological disorders that generally mean they're not in their right minds.

While economics continue to win out over responsible conservation, these issues are coming more and more to the forefront. These aberrations of nature deserve better, but until the public turns their backs on white tigers, from a value concept, they may continue to appear as a source of revenue for their owners.

Photo courtesy Cary Michael Bass under Wikimedia CC license