Monday, January 11, 2010

White Tigers ≠ Albino Tigers

I came across this article detailing the birth of several white tiger cubs in Chile. The article incorrectly states that albino tigers are a highly endangered species, and the birth of these cubs is a good thing because of it.

I blogged about white tigers a few years ago here and here, talking about the benefits they bring as well as the problems they represent in a conservation program.

The talking points that are important from this information:

1. These are white tigers, not albino tigers. True albinos would have red eyes (from lack of pigment) and no stripes.

2. White tigers are not a species of tiger, but rather a genetic mutation, and typically cross-bred and inbred to express that mutation.

3. Along with the color mutation, white tigers often display other mutations (again, the result of the limited gene pool that comes from inbreeding to achieve the color) that can affect their health.

4. White tigers bring in more money for conservation than those with the typical black and orange color pattern, so many zoos and conservation groups will keep them as a money-maker, hopefully generating enough funds to offset the cost of maintaining the white tiger as well as several genetically healthier cousins.

With the maintenance of white tigers, I actually feel bad for the general public. In a sense, they are being duped, as that above article perpetuates. They think, by giving money to support these cubs, they are saving an endangered species. Well, I suppose they are, in a round about way, if that money ends up going to support actual Siberian or Bengal or Sumatran or Indochinese or Malayan or South China tigers. Would they give less or more if they knew the truth of the matter? Hard to say, but at least you know and can inform others.

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