By: Mary Busch
Three white tiger cubs that were born in July of this year have recently been unveiled at the Liberec Zoo in the Czech Republic.
We often marvel at the uniqueness and beauty of white tigers. However, there is a sad side to breeding white tigers that is very rarely revealed to the public, a side that is uncaring and sometimes cruel.
Contrary to what many people believe, there is no population of white tigers in the wild. In fact, no known white tiger has ever survived to adulthood in the wild because their color greatly hinders their ability to hide, stalk, and hunt prey. Without the normal orange-and-black coloring, they are unable to camouflage themselves and end up starving to death. According to wildlife experts, only 1 in 10,000 wild tigers will be born white.
Since naturally produced white tigers are so extremely rare, the only way to keep producing them in captivity is through continual inbreeding of father to daughter, mother to son, or brother to sister.
White tigers suffer from numerous health problems associated with inbreeding and hybridization such as immune deficiency, scoliosis of the spine, hip dysplasia, cleft palates, neurological disorders, teeth growing in all different directions, and protruding, bulging eyes. The gene that produces the white coat also causes the optic nerve to be wired to the wrong side of the brain, resulting in the tiger being cross-eyed. Thus, all white tigers are cross-eyed even if it does not show. 80% of white tiger cubs are stillborn and 8 out of 10 cubs that survive eventually die at a young age from the inbreeding required to make the white coloration show.
So what happens to cubs that are the wrong color or too deformed to put on public display? Most are killed or disposed of. Some are sent to wildlife sanctuaries. Only the ones that look fairly normal are shown in zoos, circuses, or exhibitions.
Zoos and circuses will often claim to breed white tigers for conservation., however, since captive white tigers are inbred and most are Bengal/Siberian hybrids, breeding them does not serve any conservation purposes. The truth is, they exploit the tigers for profit. They know the public will pay to see something “rare” and unique.
According to Dr. Ron Tilson, conservation director of the Minnesota Zoo, “White tigers are an aberration artificially bred and proliferated by some zoos, private breeders, and a few circuses who do so for economic reasons rather than conservation”, Although the creation and display of white tigers causes suffering and death to countless innocent cubs, it will continue until the public refuses to support zoos and facilities that breed them. Our greed and desire to see something beautiful is what fuels this sad truth.