White Tiger Las Vegas - photo by gordon2208
The endangered white tiger is either extinct or practically extinct in the wild and in practice endangered in captivity. This is not a rare sub species of tiger but is a normal black striped orange tiger with the color taken out because of the presence of a recessive gene that when in homozygous form (a pair of these genes) dilutes the back ground color to an off-white and the stripes to charcoal. It is thought that the first mutation (and white tiger) occurred in and around 1900 (src: Wild Cats of the World). This though is speculation surely? As the white tiger is a mutation its extinction or otherwise in the wild is directly linked to the extinction of the orange tiger, which is as we know gradually becoming extinct (there are about 1400 Bengal tigers left in the wild it is thought at June 2009 and it seems less than 4,000 tigers in all although we don't have accurate figures)
One interesting thought. It could conceivably be argued that the prospect of another white Bengal tiger being born in the wild is increasing. This is because as the orange tiger population decreases inbreeding becomes more likely. Close breeding increases the chances of recessive genes being manifest. And the gene that produces the dilute colouration is recessive as I understand it. (see Inbreeding of Wildcats).
The "Snow tiger" (not an accurate name) is a more extreme version of white tiger, when the stripes are rendered very pale.
The eyes of the white tiger lack color. This is reminiscent of the effect of the piebald or white spotting gene in domestic cats (see solid and white cat coats).
So the rarity (originally) of this cat is due to the rarity of the genetic condition as it is recessive. Its extreme rarity automatically makes it endangered in this world. The cat became rarer because humans are driven to kill and possess rare animals. The story of "Mohan" encompasses all we need to know about the failings of mankind in respect of the tiger. Mohan, a white tiger was captured as a cub in 1951 by a Maharaja (Shri Martand Singh of Rewa). He is the last recorded white tiger born in the wild (src: Wikipedia). He was found in what is now a reserve, Bandhavgarh. The Maharaja and his hunting party found a tigress with her four 9 month old white babies. All of them were shot bar one, Mohan. How mad and cruel is that! Of course in those days it was the done thing. The Maharaja liked to kill rare tigers.
Having spared Mohan (the name means "Enchanter") he offered the opportunity to kill it to a fellow Maharaja Ajit Singh, who declined. When we read this now we are horrified but this one episode explains why we call it the endangered white tiger. In fact all tigers, white or not, are highly endangered. Where once it was the fun of sport hunting and trophy collecting that killed the tiger (it probably still does) it is now more about the tiger body part trade to supply Chinese medicine.
Mohan died in captivity aged 20 and very famous. The last white tiger ever seen was shot. It happened in 1958. The Wikipedia author just says this coldly. Why is mankind so eager to shoot and kill the last remaining wild white tiger?
The Wikipedia author says this, "Because of the extreme rarity of the white tiger allele in the wild, the breeding pool was limited to the small number of white tigers in captivity." I take this to mean that breeding in the wild is now non-functional and therefore the endangered white tiger is functionally extinct in the wild. The problem seems to be that mankind wiped out the white tiger so comprehensively in the wild that there weren't even sufficient retained as captive cats from which to successfully breed.
Today it all happens in captivity and in starting from such a narrow pool of foundation cats in captivity from which to breed, inbreeding health issues reared their ugly head. Such inbreeding defects have included:
- shortened tendons of the forelegs
- club foot
- kidney problems
- arched or crooked backbone
- twisted neck
It is very sad to read about this. How mankind has reduced a once proud animal to this. The problems of inbreeding were apparently eased by outcrossing to orange tigers. But there is always the need for commercial gain, to produce white tigers and the numbers of white tigers produced is greater when two white tigers breed (each having 2 copies of the recessive allele). 100% of their offspring will be homozygous white tigers. If two tiger mate that each have only one copy of the dilution gene, then, on average:
- 25% of their offspring will be white
- 50% will be heterozygous orange (white gene carriers)
- 25% will be homozygous orange, with no white genes
This is less commercially profitable. At it is about profit, largely. In China white tigers are overbreed (i.e. too frequently) and the Wikipedia author alludes to the fact that this is for purely commercial reasons, to make white tiger wine and other so called medicinal products.
Obviously, the white tiger is endangered because of mankind's activity. Latterly the white tiger is ruthlessly exploited commercially in captivity causing inbreeding. There is now an overproduction of white tigers so it could be argued that the white tiger is no longer endangered. Yes, I agree that it is not endangered in the conventional meaning of the word (i.e. its survival) but this cat's wellbeing is endangered in captivity because too much emphasis is placed on the commercialisation of the white tiger. They are a money making product. It is little to do with so called conservation. Although that is the pretext under which commercialisation of the endangered white tiger is conducted.
- Endangered White Tiger to Savannah Cat
- To Wild Cat Species
- Inbreeding the curse of big cats
- Cat inbreeding means poor sperm
Endangered White Tiger: Photo header: published under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs creative commons License -- this site is for charitable purposes in funding cat rescue.