Four furry white tigers were just born in a Japanese zoo near Tokyo, to the usual expressions of awe and wonder — and the usual widespread publication of misinformation.
Some reports, including the news video I’ve linked below, will tell you that the white tiger is an endangered species, with only 200 specimens remaining in the wild.
Folks, the white tiger is not a species, much less an endangered one, and there sure as heck ain’t 200 of the beasts roaming around waiting to be found in the wild. Their color is a rare genetic mutation, which occurs when both parents carry the recessive gene that changes the coat from the normal orange to white. White tigers aren’t born in zoos by accident. They’re carefully bred to express the gene, because they’re gorgeous and the public absolutely loves ’em.
So where did they come from? The story varies, but the Wikipedia account seems like a decent summary. Apparently, a very few white tigers did pop up in the wild very rarely in India as early as 1820 and up until the 1950s.
However, today’s white tigers are not those naturally occurring mutations. They come from a strain of inbred tigers arising from repeated breeding of a brother/sister pair at the Cincinnati Zoo.
The popular animals proved a welcome source of income for the zoos that lease them. As a bonus, the highly regarded Las Vegas act Siegfried and Roy shot to fame — and then to tragedy — in large part to their work with the beautiful “royal” white tigers.
However, there’s a certain amount of bad feeling in some circles about the white tigers being born in numerous zoos. Genuine purebred tiger subspecies are vanishing, and some people feel that zoos should reserve precious breeding territory for the real thing.
That said, the white tigers are not wild animals, and they won’t be taking wild territory away from their endangered wild cousins any time soon. They’re just for pretty. Or, in the case of the newborn white tigers, they’re for the sheer “cute” of it all.
Here’s some adorable video of the new white tiger cubs posted by London’s ITN news, even if some of the background commentary on white tigers isn’t strictly factual:
They may not be environmentally or politically correct, but I for one welcome the four brand spankin’ newborn white tigers cubs. Awwwww.
[adult white tiger photo by Elaine Radford]