White tigers: the result of generations of unhealthy breeding practices

By Sarah Hartwell

Kenny a deformed white tiger the result of severe inbreeding
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Deformed white tiger “Kenny”. Photos via Messybeast.com website.

I recently drafted the genealogies of white tigers from Mohan in the 1950s through to the zoo population in the 1990s. It’s something I’ve been studying since the late 1990s with the help of 2 people in the USA (one a former zoo-keeper who moved there from England). I’m now making enquiries to bring it more up-to-date. What you’ll see from the charts is a horrific level of inbreeding being used to mass-produce white tigers for zoos, circuses and private owners – multiple levels of brother-sister or father-daughter matings.


I’ve put these all online to try to educate people that white tigers are the result of generations of unhealthy breeding practices.

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The snow white tigers can all trace their ancestry to an extremely inbred individual (Bhim) and because they also have Amur tigers in their family tree they are not pure Bengal tigers and are considered “genetic junk” (so they cannot be released into the wild because they would pollute the orange Bengal tiger population with Amur tiger genes). Some may have Indo-Chinese ancestry as that subspecies was not considered distinct from Bengal tigers when the white tigers were originally bred.

Far from being an endangered species, they are the equivalent of a cat breed such as a Persian cat and are bred for exhibition, not for conserving wild tigers. They take up space in zoos that could be used for protecting and conserving the genuine subspecies of tigers. Although many zoos and owners refer to outcrossing their white tigers to unrelated white tigers, in practice those unrelated white tigers are descended from the same ancestors.

The best that can be said for white tigers is that they attract people to zoos and the entrance money can be used to support genuine conservation efforts. On the other hand there are facilities that call themselves “conservation parks” in the USA that are white tiger mills, churning out horrifically inbred white tigers for private owners. The genetic mistakes born in those tiger mills are either destroyed or off-loaded onto tiger rescue organisations (for example the inbred pug-faced white tiger Kenny who lived at Turpentine Creek).

Siegfriend & Roy claimed to have helped save “Royal White Tigers. Actually they’ve just perpetuated white mongrel tigers, but let’s not allow facts to get in the way of media hype and self-advertising. They were the first to selectively breed stripeless white tigers, which they did by mating Sitarra to her brother Neva i.e. even more inbreeding. Sitarra and Neva’s parents were also brother and sister.

Generations of inbreeding have caused other recessive genes to emerge, resulting in the golden tiger (also called golden tabby tiger). These have never been recorded in the wild. One private breeder, whose records are not available to outsiders, is also selectively breeding stripeless light-brown tigers – I shudder to think how much inbreeding it has taken to fix that colour type.

As if the excessive inbreeding isn’t enough, white tigers are sometimes crossed to lions to give white (pale yellow really) ligers.


Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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15 Responses

  1. Ralph DeMattia says:

    God bless that ugly yet beautiful animal, and DAMN humanity for creating him. I recently adopted a calico cat that hah her face beaten in by some inner-city monsters (or am I supposed to m say “AFRICAN AMERICANS?), and after a $3400.00 vet bill she is the prettiest kittie you’ve ever seen!

  2. Dee (Florida) says:

    This is horrible.
    Poor Kenny and others. How does he even eat with that mouth?

  3. Thanks for appreciating the “White Tiger” photo, one of the best wild-life photo’s i managed with a ordinary digital camera.
    Talking about tiger commercialization, here is a photo of the normal orange tigers in a Bangkok zoo, akin to cats.All these tigers can never ever be released in the wild and only hope the species avoids extinction due to ‘Habitat loss” and “In-Breeding”.

  4. For the first time in my life have seen a tiger resembling a “PERSIAN CAT” !The white tiger “KENNY” would definitely be a big zoo attraction as a freak and also a sad indication of the future of the “BIG CATS” in the zoo’s and captivity. The “WHITE TIGERS” existing on planet Earth are all heavily inbred and as i am not a biologist with knowledge of genetics i wonder whats the remedy to solve “INBREEDING” in zoological parks as well as protected National Parks.Singapore zoo had the best white tigers when i visited the zoo in 2007 and was lucky to click a few beautiful memorable photographs.Strangely, all the white tigers in the Singapore zoo were sterilized and i wonder the reasons for the same.I have attatched a photo of a classic white tiger of the Singapore zoo.

    • Marc says:

      This is a great photo Rudolph.

      It’s so sad reading things like this – one has a feeling of despair really – in the face of human’s need to consume – i.e.: see white tigers at the darn zoo. There should be serious laws in place to prevent all this.

    • Sarah Hartwell says:

      Simple explanation – if they weren’t sterilised they’d be fighting. Tigers are very territorial and it’s not natural for adult tigers to live in groups (or even in pairs outside of mating time). Even when breeding, captive tigers can kill each other. Castration reduces the aggression. Spaying or hormone implants prevents females from attracting unwanted suitors which can result in aggression between the sexes.

      • Michael says:

        I all seems a bit of failure. Inbreeding, castration, deformed. forced to live in groups, stressed, female hormone implants.

        What else? Justified for conservation! Joke. There is nothing about the white tiger left to conserve.

        It is hardly a tiger.

    • Michael says:

      Good photo Rudolph, well done. The white tiger does look glamorous. Shame about all the hidden ones or the ones killed at birth. Are the deformed ones killed at birth? I expect so.

  5. Michael says:

    Thanks for this Sarah. It was very nice of you to contribute.

    For me, the white tiger is emblematic of what is wrong with wild cats in zoos or captivity. The people who like to keep wild cats in captivity declare they do it for conservation but often or always it is hard to see any conservation value in the process.

    And wild cats do badly in captivity. Many wild cat species don’t breed in captivity. Perhaps they are too stressed.

    The breeding of Bengal and Siberian tigers in China is another abomination. These cats are farmed for their body parts including wine from the bones.

    All the investment in cats in captivity would be better spent in respect of conservation if it went into addressing the root causes of the decline of wild cat species in the wild.

    • Chris says:

      National parks and zoos etc are OK if properly kept, that is. At least those animals get to have a life, somehow! What about the tigers and other animals that CHINA kills on a regular basis?! THE CHINESE kill tigers, hunt them down or breed them for theoir bones! Disgusting altogether and totally appalling!They shove lots of dogs and cats into boxes to eat them!!!!!!!!!!!!
      Not surprised in the least that CHINA has brought on the CORONA in the world!!
      Korea, Vietnam, Thailand are not far behind !!!!!!!!!Not to mention South Africa where they breed lions so so called disgusting rich people “hunt¨them in enclosures!!!! Outrageous!One cannot really be proud of belonging to the human race!!!!!

      • Totally agree and I am with you on this completely. I hate it. The world needs to stop it but they ignore it. Gloss over it. Forget it. I hate the world sometimes.

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