Prized for Profit: Rare White Lions and Tigers Exposed to Selective Inbreeding in Zoos
Although the wild cats on display in zoos seem to be the kings and queens of their exhibits, the reality of their lives in captivity is far from royal.
Illegal poaching, trophy hunting, retaliative persecution and habitat loss subjects wildlife species to extinction or captivity, and has brought populations of wild cats in the world to staggering lows.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
Many zoos have made efforts to save wild cats and stimulate procreation, but the threat is the largest for the white tiger and the white lion species. Despite the educational goals and hopeful life-saving conditions of zoos, containment of these white cats has become inhumane and harmful due to selective inbreeding for the sake of profit, not protection.
In over a century, 97 percent of all tigers have been lost, leaving as few as 3,200 in the wild today, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) states. Resources to safeguard and protect the habitats of tigers are limited, and poaching remains pervasive even within countries that have protection laws, such Cambodia, China, Laos and Vietnam. In Central and West Africa, lions are now classified as an endangered species and are extinct in 26 countries, according to wild cat conservation group, Panthera.
Exhibitors and breeders favor white tigers and lions because they are so rare. A subspecies of the orange Bengal tiger, the white tiger’s fur coat is the result of a recessive gene that must be carried by both parents.The Global White Lion Protection Trust states the fur of white lions is due to a genetic marker that has not even been identified yet.
Though beautiful, their bright coats make it difficult to camouflage themselves from animal predators and poachers in the wild, further exacerbating their struggle for survival.
At zoos, their white coats draw visitors and bring in money. To ensure the presence of African and Asian white cat exhibits, many zoos actively inbreed white lions and white tigers. However, this inbreeding has resulted in genetic deformities among offspring in both species.
Skeletal deformities, digestive complications, neurological conditions and immune system deficiencies are likely to occur in inbred white lion offspring, while inbred white tigers are found to develop cleft palettes, strabismus, scoliosis of the spine, mental impairments and dysfunction around the trachea.
Despite these abnormalities, according to The Wildcat Sanctuary, zoos continue to inbreed for financial gain rather than for the species’ survival. Out of a litter of cubs, certain offspring are selected to remain in the zoo, while nearly half of those born with deformities or without a pure, white coat are often euthanized or neglected.
Breeding practices that increase the physical expression of single rare alleles (i.e., rare genetic traits) through intentional inbreeding, for example intentional breeding to achieve rare color-morphs such as white tigers, deer and alligators, has been clearly linked with various abnormal, debilitating, and, at times, lethal, external and internal conditions and characteristics … Therefore such practices are not in adherence with AZA’s Board-approved Policy on the Presentation of Animals.
When it comes to the conservation of the white wild cat species, the association holds that captive species should be managed with possible re-introduction in mind, not intentionally kept so the zoo can profit.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
By James O'Hare
There are 20 million people in the world facing famine in South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen. In developed nations, too, people go hungry. Venezuela, for instance, is enduring food insecurity on a national level as a result of economic crisis and political corruption. In the U.S., the land of supposed excess, 12.7 percent of households were food insecure in 2015, meaning they didn't know where their next meal would come from.
Artists are taking the climate crisis into frame and the results are emotional, beautiful and stirring.
So you've seen the best climate change cartoons and shared them with your friends. You've showed your family the infographics on climate change and health, infographics on how the grid works and infographics about clean, renewable energy. You've even forwarded these official National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration graphs that explain the 10 clear indicators of climate change to your colleagues at the office.
As the Trump administration moves full speed ahead on boosting the oil and fossil fuel industry, opposition to increased pipeline construction is cropping up in different communities around the country.
By Simon Evans
Last Saturday, two dead whales washed up on the coast of Suffolk, in eastern England, and a third was spotted floating at sea.
What happened next illustrates how news can spread and evolve into misinformation, when reported by journalists rushing to publish before confirming basic facts or sourcing their own quotes.
By Monica Amarelo and Paul Pestano
Sun safety is a crucial part of any outdoor activity for kids, and sunscreen can help protect children's skin from harmful ultraviolet rays. Kids often get sunburned when they're outside unprotected for longer than expected. Parents need to plan ahead and keep sun protection handy in their cars or bags.
By Joe McCarthy
A lot of people take part in community clean-up efforts—spending a Saturday morning picking up litter in a park, mowing an overgrown field or painting a fence.