Reuters Screws Up: White Tigers are NOT Endangered!

10 05 2007

Someone at Reuters didn’t do their research; in an article released this afternoon about 9 Bengal tiger cubs (one being white) being born inside 2 months at the Zoologico de Vallarta park in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico a reporter asserted that white tigers are endangered because they often don’t so well in the wild because they lack the proper camoflage. From the Reuters article;

The arrival of six Bengals, three each from different parents, is rare and Brisa is a coup for the endangered white Bengal tiger which often fails to survive in the wild for its lack of camouflage.

I normally don’t like to jump to conclusions, but it sounds like someone’s been inbreeding. If you think the woo would stop there, you’d be wrong. Says the vet in charge of rearing the cubs, Xochitl Nicteja;

The zoo is magical. It’s situated in such a precious area which is almost completely the animals’ natural habitat, and that has a lot to do with why they procreate happily and naturally.

Yes… “magical.” Granted, the location of the zoo may be more natural than elsewhere, and perhaps the vet used “magical” in a tongue-in-cheek way, but I would hope some more study would go into why the tigers were so prolific so that the species could be benefitted through breeding/release programs.

As I’ve written before (it’s actually my most popular post ever, being fodder for plenty of grade-school reports [or so I would assume from the comments/e-mails I get]) white tigers are not a legitimate species, subspecies, or variety of tigers. In the wild they are exceptionally rare and require both parents to at least carry (if not express) recessive genes that can cause any number of birth defects in addition to the white coat. Despite this, these tigers are popular at zoos and the majority of the public has no idea that they are produced via inbreeding, there likely being many more deformed white tigers that are never seen for every one on display.

The end of the article also suggests that the Vallarta Zoo foolishly allows guests to feed and have photo ops with some of the big cat cubs. Sure, it’s cute and it brings in money, but it’s hardly what’s best for the animal and it can put guests in a dangerous situation (just because they’re little doesn’t mean they can’t deliver a good bite or rake you with their claws). For every well-mainted, conscientious zoo there are probably 100 more in various locales throughout the world that care more about money than the animals in their charge, breeding programs or no. Still, the zoo isn’t solely to blame; shoddy reporting through mediums like the Associated Press and Reuters gives the impression that certain things are normal when they certainly are not. Am I the only one who gets pissed off when this stuff shows up on the news?


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3 responses

11 05 2007
Sarda Sahney

I find this misconception maddening as well. I dedicated two posts to it back in March but truthfully I don’t think it is a myth that will die soon. It is propogated by many, especially Mirage that still has Siegfried & Roy’s white tigers.

11 05 2007
laelaps

I wrote a letter to Reuters pointing out the error, but I have yet to receive any reply. If I do I’ll post it here, but the number of hits I get every day for “white tiger” to me speaks to the popularity (and mythology) that surrounds these animals.

14 07 2009
Michelle

I had no idea that inbreeding had to take place in order to get white tigers. I’m pretty sure that most people are also not aware of it. Yes I will agree that they are beautiful, but at what cost? It infuriates me to see people doing things just because they can and not ever thinking about if they should. Thank you for the post and the great information. I will pass it along!

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