White tigers have been gaining popularity with breeders, exhibitors, and facilities claiming sanctuary status largely in part to their ghostly white coloration and sapphire blue eyes. The white tiger has become so popular that many people believe it to be a separate subspecies altogether which has led to the assumption that since the orange and black tiger is critically endangered, surely, the white tiger is in even more danger of extinction. However, this is all false. Unfortunately, breeders and exhibitors use this assumption as an excuse to breed them to “protect them from extinction”. This is a lie. In reality, white tigers are being bred to make money (a white tiger cub can sell for as much as $60,000.00) and not as a part of any species survival plan. The continued breeding leads, not only to more tigers with health problems but also an excess of orange and black tigers still being born with these litters. The white tiger is not a separate subspecies and therefore not in danger of extinction, they do not live anywhere on the globe where their white coloration would help them survive, they do not have a native habitat, they are severely inbred and therefore have severe health problems, and they are cross-bred.
The inbreeding of white tigers began in 1951 when a white tiger named Mohan was removed from the wild and bred back to his daughters and grand-daughters. For a long time it was believed that all white tigers descended from Mohan but it was discovered that another source of white tigers came from a cross between a Bengal and Siberian that took place in 1976. It is now believed that white tigers in the U.S. now have descended from the cross breeding. So now, not only are these white tigers severely inbred they are also cross-bred.
What we call the snow tiger or the royal white tiger are not a true species. They are in fact caused by a very rare genetic mutation that is termed Leucism. This mutation prevents the pigment from coloring the skin and fur which is why we see white fur, chocolate stripes, blue eyes, and a pink nose. This mutation is so rare that it is estimated that only one in every 10,000 tigers born in the wild is white. Due to this mutation robbing them of their camouflage, white tigers in the wild rarely survive long enough to pass on their genes. Therefore, white tigers are only found in captivity. In captivity the prevalence of this mutation is increased through inbreeding brother to sister or father to daughter for multiple generations. This inbreeding leads to several severe health problems in white tigers and sometimes even in the orange and black cubs in the same litter. These health problems are generally kept a secret from the public and can include spinal deformities, cleft palates, club feet, mental impairments, defective organs, immune deficiencies, hip dysplasia, and bulging eyes. Also, the gene that is responsible for the white coloration causes the optic nerve to be connected to the wrong side of the brain which means that all white tigers are cross-eyed even if their eyes look normal. Because this gene is so rare and there are so many birth defects, the death rate of white tiger cubs is astonishingly high. When an orange and white tiger are bred, only 1 in 4 cubs are born white and of those 80% die from birth defects. Only 1 in 30 of the surviving white cubs will be suitable for display. So what happens to the excess orange and black cubs and the white cubs not suitable for display? The white cubs rarely end up in accredited facilities but end up being killed or sold to neglectful facilities. The outcomes for the orange and black cubs are not much better. Most end up being sold into the pet trade, becoming victims of canned hunts, or being killed and sold for parts in the Asian markets.
Today sanctuaries are working very hard to educate the public about the horrors surrounding the breeding of white tigers but it is hard for the public to believe all these horrible and sad stories. Always remember that when you are looking at a white tiger what caused that white tiger and the health problems that it could currently be suffering. Also, don’t forget how many white tiger cubs it took to get one normal looking one and the fate of that one’s litter mates.