Yesterday three white tiger cubs debuted before the public at the Buenos Aires Zoo in Argentina (the photo is from Reuters).
The three cubs have yet to be named, but were born to two white tigers named Conde and Bety at the zoo, having triplets in 2002 and a total of 6 cubs in 2004 according to this Yahoo!News article. What happened to all those other cubs? I can’t seem to find anything, but chances are good that they looked like this
Even though white tigers may be nifty to look at and a favorite among zoo patrons, in order to get one you need to inbreed an existing pair of white tigers, often brother/sister, mother/son, father/daughter, you get the idea. While there are some more “scrupulous” breeders who don’t inbreed to this extent, all white tigers are a hybrid of Amur & Begal tigers and share a very recent common ancestor, making them far more inbred than cheetahs (who at least have had the benefit of being in the wild). In fact, many of these tigers appear “cross-eyed” and suffer from various diseases even when they look “normal,” a result of Chediak-Higashi Syndrome, and white tigers are generally unkown in the wild because of the issues the coat color brings with it.
Trying to figure out what became of the other cubs born at the Buenos Aires zoo, I learned (via the Wikipedia entry) that for quite some time the park wasn’t run well at all, constantly in a state of decay until coming under the responsibility of showbusinessman Gerardo Sofovich in 1989, named “coordinator” of the zoo. Indeed, Sofovich’s prior experience seemed to be in the realm of tv and movies, so somehow I don’t think he would have the well-being of the animals kept at the zoo first in his mind. Regardless of whether Sofovich was actually involved in the white tiger inbreeding program or not, it’s clear that the zoos continuing disregard for the wellfare of their animals stem from their desire for high attendance rates more than anything else.
Looking more closely at what is happening with the tigers themselves, I had no idea the extent to which they were inbred to produced fashionable white tigers. I had previously heard that the white condition is almost never seen in the wild and primarily the result of captive-breeding programs, but what these animals are put through is inhumane, to say the very least. There’s far more about the subject than I can do justice to at Big Cat Rescue, but I’ll try and give an accurate overview of why people should be enraged at the ongoing practice of white tiger inbreeding.
As Dr. Dan Laughlin said in an article on the BCR site
The only conceivable legitimate reason for exhibiting a white tiger would be for educational purposes to clearly and unequivocally illustrate to the public the process of natural selection and how, when a deleterious recessive genetic mutation randomly occurs that is disadvantageous for the survival of the animal, such as white color in a tropical jungle environment, the animal does not survive to pass on that genetic mutation or disadvantageous characteristic to its offspring.
Indeed, the white tiger is essentially mutant of existing Amur or Bengal tigers (usually a hybrid of the two), and while they occasionally are seen in the wild, the white tigers bred in captivity are absolutely worthless to conservation efforts because of their heritage. If you see a white tiger in a zoo, it’s not an alternate form from a normal mating, but rather is inbred and can trace its own lineage back to a single white tiger named Mohan. Initially, Mohan did not produce any white offspring, but these offspring were carriers for the recessive trait that causes white tigers, the zoos that mated Mohan’s offspring winding up with white cubs. Once this was discovered, Mohan was mated to one of his daughters, resulting in white offspring included Mohini. Mohini was then sent to the Washington Zoo where the staff desired more white tigers. Unfortunately no other white tigers were available at the time, so Mohini was mated to her mother’s brother and her half-brother, and then to one of her sons that carried the white gene. The Wikipedia entry carries on in much the same fashion through several more generations, and although it did not provide references for exactly what tiger sired what offspring, the overarching point is abundantly clear; the only way to get white tigers is to inbreed them, all current white tigers arising out of a very recent common captive ancestor.
As is well known, inbreeding to this degree quickly amplifies various defects and for every white tiger you see on display there are many others that were stillborn, died soon after birth, suffer disfiguring birth defects, or otherwise would not be “suitable” for display. As the BCR article notes, there are so many of these cats that they refuse to accept them into their care, not out of carelessness but the fact that many breeders want to simply offload the “defective” tigers to inbreed their “normal” tigers again. Mind you, these tigers are the ones that make it past the 80% infant mortality rate, often suffering from immune system problems, cleft palates, club foot, various spinal problems/deformities, etc. Needless to say, these cats suffer the entirety of their short lives so illegitimate, idiotic performers can use them on stage (white tigers often selected because they’re less intellectually adept than normal tigers) Oftentimes “normal” colored tigers that carry the recessive gene are mated with white tigers, only a small percentage of the offspring being white, the others usually sold to be pets or otherwise improperly cared for. It infuriates me that in this day and age the black market pet trade still exists to the extent that it does, private owners allowed to keep animals and mistreat them as long as they have the proper permit. Unless it’s an accredited zoo or santuarcy, NO ONE should be keeping exotic animals.
I am absolutely infuriated that the Buenos Aires Zoo is continuing to try and breed white tigers for no other reason than to make money, and I really would like to know what has become of the other cubs produced by the parents of the recent triplets. News outlets might pick it up as a miraculous event, but in truth it’s just another sad reminder of how many animals are exploited in zoos all over the world, only a handful being responsible about keeping animals and returning them to the wild.