What Are White Tigers

The Surprising Reality of the Popular White Tiger

White tigers are not albino or a different subspecies of tiger such as an arctic tiger. Their white coat is caused by a recessive gene inherited by both parents, and roughly 1/10,000 tigers are born with this rare genetic mutation called Leucism, causing the tiger to lose pigmentation in its skin and fur. With only ~3,800 tigers currently left in the wild, it is extremely unlikely that one will ever be born again in a natural setting. Having a white coat is a disadvantage to hunting, camouflage, and protection from danger and poachers. 

So where are there over 200 white tigers in captivity today? 

History of the White Tiger

In the early 1900’s there were over 100,000 tigers roaming their natural habitat throughout Asia. It was extremely rare to see a white tiger, and the last recorded white tiger found in India was shot and killed as a trophy in 1958. Mohan, a white tiger cub, was found with its orange mother and siblings in 1951. The orange cats were shot and killed, however, Mohan was captured for his unique coloration and forced into captivity. After only producing orange cubs, he was then inbred back to his daughter, and the first captive white litter was born. All white tigers that exist are descendants of Mohan and his daughter. 

White Tiger Breeding Today

Today’s white tiger populations are primarily the product of breeding closely related white tigers. Due to the small concentration of these individuals in captivity, pseudo-facilities find it easier to breed animals than to outsource for new genes. Selectively inbreeding white tigers increases the likeliness of white cubs being produced. People pay top dollar to view white tigers and use them for entertainment, so breeders do not care about the massive amounts of health issues caused by inbreeding and speed breeding. They are selectively inbreeding to produce a white coat, and want as many cubs as possible.  White tigers are beautiful, but their looks because of human desire should not outweigh the health problems the animals have to suffer with forever. 

Severe inbreeding causes dangerous deleterious health issues in tigers such as abnormal external and internal conditions and characteristics. These health issues often compromise the welfare and health of the animal, and result in death. Cubs who are not aesthetically pleasing or have severe health issues are euthanized because they cannot be sold. After white tiger cubs have surpassed their legal 12 week or 30 pound age limit for cub petting practices, they are then exploited further into the entertainment industry, being sold to circuses, magic shows, or private owners.

The white tiger gene is associated with the optic nerve wiring to the opposite side of the brain, causing them to be cross eyed and have terrible vision. They often suffer from clubfeet, spinal deformities, hip dysplasia, kidney problems, defective organs, kidney disorders, cleft palates and stillbirths. 

White tiger mothers do not always give birth to white cubs, they can also be born orange. Only ¼ of tiger cubs are actually born white. They are considered “throw away tigers” in the trade, and are killed because they are not white. The orange babies still suffer all of the health defects, but are not worth any money due to the color of their coat. 

*Picture of Willy Tiger and Kenny 

Hurting Conservation Practices

White tigers serve no conservation value, and only exist because humans think they are beautiful and are exploited for economic gain. Any credible facility will not endorse the breeding of white tigers, and work to educate the world on why they exist. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) banned the breeding of white tigers in 2008, and explain that intentional inbreeding causes “…abnormal, debilitating, and at times, lethal, external and internal conditions and characteristics”, outlined it the white paper Welfare and Conservation Implications of Intentional Breeding for the Expression of Rare Recessive Alleles. “Recessive alleles (or any particular alleles) should neither be selected against nor selected for, since doing so would lead to a loss of overall genetic diversity (Lacy, 2000). 

Paying to view white tigers, participate in cub petting, and supporting the entertainment industry that exploits big cats is 

How You Can Help

  • The reason why white tigers are continued to be carelessly bred is because people continue to pay to view them within the entertainment industry, hold white tiger cubs for photo opportunities, and keep them as pets.
  • By choosing to not patronize facilities that breed white tigers, allow cub petting, use them for entertainment, or keep them for personal pets is the best way to protect them. 
  • Passing the Big Cat Public Safety Act is urgent, and your support will greater the chances of this federal bill becoming enacted. Tell Congress they must act now to stop abuse, and to ban private ownership and stop excessive breeding of captive wildlife. 
  • Only support true sanctuaries like TCWR, who are accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries. The Big Cat Sanctuary Alliance will continue to fight for the voice for animals. 
  • Join us today to speak for white tigers and other captive exotic animals who are being exploited for financial gain. Your voice matters.