Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Prized for Profit: Rare White Lions and Tigers Exposed to Selective Inbreeding in Zoos

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.

Pair of white tigers in a zoo in Singapore.
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.

In June 2011, the American Zoological Association (AZA) finalized their ban on breeding captive white cats for their member zoos. Its policy states:

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

Palm Oil Company Ordered to Pay $30 Million for Illegal Rainforest Destruction 

Leonardo DiCaprio Pledges $3 Million to Help Double Nepal's Tigers

Kingpin Behind Bars for Poaching Chimps in Africa

--------

Matthew Micah Wright / The Image Bank / Getty Images

By Deborah Moore, Michael Simon and Darryl Knudsen

There's some good news amidst the grim global pandemic: At long last, the world's largest dam removal is finally happening.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Scrap metal is loaded into a shredder at a metal recycling facility on July 17, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. Scott Olson / Getty Images

Hunger strikers in Chicago are fighting the relocation of a metal shredding facility from a white North Side neighborhood to a predominantly Black and Latinx community on the Southeast Side already plagued by numerous polluting industries.

Read More Show Less

Trending

A new UK study links eating meat with increased risks for heart disease, diabetes and more. nata_zhekova / Getty Images

The World Health Organization has determined that red meat probably causes colorectal cancer in humans and that processed meat is carcinogenic to humans. But are there other health risks of meat consumption?

Read More Show Less
A common cuttlefish like this can pass the "marshmallow test." Hans Hillewaert / CC BY-SA 4.0

Cuttlefish, marine invertebrates related to squids and octopuses, can pass the so-called "marshmallow test," an experiment designed to test whether human children have the self-control to wait for a better reward.

Read More Show Less
Yogyakarta Bird Market, Central Java, Indonesia. Jorge Franganillo / CC BY 2.0

By John R. Platt

The straw-headed bulbul doesn't look like much.

It's less than a foot in length, with subdued brown-and-gold plumage, a black beak and beady red eyes. If you saw one sitting on a branch in front of you, you might not give it a second glance.

Read More Show Less