White tigers seem to be very popular around the world. I suppose it’s because they look unusual, like a hairless cat. Some (many) people think white tigers are polar creatures. It sounds reasonable. After all, polar bears are white, Arctic foxes are white, snowy owls are white. But the truth behind that glorious white coat is very, very different.
Siberian (Amur) tigers, the largest of the tiger family, live in the snows of Siberia – but they are orange, like their smaller cousins. Pictures and information from National Geographic. The white colouring is a rare, but natural, genetic variation found occasionally in Bengal tigers. In the Indian jungles, the white cubs did not usually survive – for fairly obvious reasons. But it seems that in the early 1950’s a hunter shot a tigress with cubs. One of the cubs was white so he kept it. This was the famous Mohan, to which most of the white tigers in the US can trace their ancestry. White tiger history provides some fascinating additional information about white tigers. The story of the capture of Mohan is quite chilling. So the truth is, when we’re talking captive US tigers, the people at Big Cat Rescue in Florida will tell you, all white tigers are inbred, not purebred. If you don’t wish to read the whole article, in essence, since the white gene is recessive, white tigers can only be bred by mating brothers and sisters, or daughters and fathers. Yes, they get a white coat – but they are also cross-eyed, and prone to a host of other physical deficiencies.
To quote Dr Ron Tislon, Conservation Director of the Minnesota Zoo and manager of the world renown Tiger Species Survival Plan, “White tigers are an aberration artificially bred and proliferated by some zoos, private breeders and a few circuses who do so for economic rather than conservation reasons.”
I was interested (if not particularly surprised) to discover that many of my American friends had no idea that there were so many tigers in the US, eking out an existence in circuses, roadside stops, private zoos, backyards – even apartments, as well as accredited zoos. The exact number is unknown, but figures between five thousand and ten thousand are bandied about. The illegal trade in exotic animals is second only to the drug trade in the US – a very lucrative business.
This is what prompted me to write White Tiger. Although it’s a fast-paced paranormal adventure story laced with crime, its background is the treatment of tigers in the US, from abuse in basements, to the sanctuaries set up to care for the fortunate few. Tigers do NOT make good house pets and the best way to protect them is to change the laws in the US that allow private ownership of exotic species. I’ll be supporting Carolina Tiger and Big Cat Rescue with my voice, and my wallet.
If any of you have been to BCR or Carolina Tiger, I’m dead envious – but I’d love to read about your experiences.