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Endangered White Tigers

Natasha Bantwal
Currently no white tigers are spotted in the wild. These unique tigers instill a sense of unmatched beauty and awe, but common folklore portray them as the beasts of death or bad omen. So, while they may indeed be idolized by some people, they are brutally hunted down by others.
White tigers are very rarely seen in the wild. The white tiger cannot be considered as a sub-species, but is a result of recessive yet rare genes of the Bengal tiger, and is actually a color variation.
It is estimated that only one in 10,000 births can result in a white tiger naturally. Over the past couple of centuries, white tigers have become even rarer in the wild, with some unsubstantiated sightings in the Siberian wild, due to trophy hunting or capture for exotic pet trade.
Today, the white tiger can still be found in a handful of zoos and animal sanctuaries around the world, with these large and beautiful felines often being the star attraction.

History and Origin

The first mention of a white tiger was recorded in India somewhere between 1556 and 1605 AD, although the first documented case of a white tiger being caught was in 1915.
It is believed that a local king caught a white tiger and kept it for himself till its demise. After 36 years, in 1951, Maharaja Martand Singh, the king of Rewa, spotted a male white tiger during his visit to the Govindgarh jungle in Central India. He captured this tiger and raised it himself.
Named Mohan, the tiger mated with its offspring, and the first litter of white tiger cubs were born. All the white tigers kept in zoos are now the descendants of Mohan, or some of the other captive orange tigers whose recessive genes took over through special breeding programs.

Anatomy and Appearance

All white tigers are a color variant of the Bengal tiger; they are not a separate sub-species. A white tiger can weigh up to 300 kg (661 pounds), and grow to more than 3 meters (10 ft) in length.
The males are larger than the females. White tigers have pure white or creamy fur with black or dark brown stripes along their body. They have blue eyes, rather than green or yellow like that of normal Bengal Tigers.
The ears are semi-circlular in shape, and the nose is pink in color. With their appearance, they are often characterized as albino tigers, but this is not true. An albino tiger would be pure white, without any stripes.

Controversy Surrounding Inbreeding

The very rarity of these majestic creatures puts a lot of pressure on zoos to produce more and more white tigers.
These beautiful animals make very popular exhibits, and help in increasing the zoo's traffic and revenue. Since white tigers are not found in the wild, they are multiplied by inbreeding.
Most genetic defects tend to be recessive, and are generally masked by normal genes, but in this case, with the persistent inbreeding taking place, genetic problems are accumulating, and are amplified, resulting in high mortality rates and severe disabilities.
Approximately 80% of the cubs die from serious birth defects as a result of inbreeding that is necessary to create the white coat. 
Out of the few that survive, most have apparent birth defects, like retinal degeneration, strabismus (cross eyes), scoliosis of the spine, cleft palates, and clubbed feet. Additionally, the other problems that are related to these tigers also include mental impairments like unpredictable behavior and depression.
Such inbreeding is not only disturbing; but also inhumane. The controversy involved establishments and individuals who claimed that they are trying to save or keep the species alive, or are simply manipulating the truth to keep their unethical activities running.
Breeding of white tigers is just for the purpose of moneymaking, and benefits the tiger species in no way, most believe.


  • Scientific Name: Panthera tigris tigris
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Subphylum: Vertebrata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Subclass: Eutheria
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Family: Felidae
  • Subfamily: Pantherinae
  • Genus: Panthera

Conservation Statement and Reasons for Being Extinct

The reasons for the white tiger being extinct in the wild is because it lacks the natural camouflage of normally colored tigers, and most of those born are killed by predators as they are young and vulnerable, and more so because they stand out. Those that do survive and make it to adulthood, have a hard time hunting for the same reason - lack of camouflage.
Apart from this, another reason being, they are hunted down for their beautiful fur and organs. Tiger body parts are most sought-after for their use in medicines and exotic cuisine. According to IUCN, there are estimated to be around only 200 white tigers left in the wild.

Interesting Facts

  • In the wild, white tigers usually hunt at night, as their white fur does not provide camouflage during the day, and their night vision is six times better than that of humans.
  • Just like human fingerprints, no two tigers have the same pattern of stripes.
  • There are more tigers held privately as pets, as compared to the number that are there in the wild.
  • The tiger is the biggest species of the cat family, and white tigers tend to be larger than the normal orange-colored tigers.
  • July 29th is celebrated as Global Tiger Day.
  • Tigers usually carry the Chinese mark of wang or king on their forehead.
Tigers, in general, are threatened with extinction due to hunting and loss of habitat. Three tiger subspecies - Bali, Javan and Caspian - have already become extinct. The six remaining species - Siberian, Bengal, Indochinese, Malayan, South China, and Sumatran - are found only in Asia, and are threatened due to the same reasons - poaching and habitat loss.