International Society For Endangered Cats

A Voice For The Wild Cats of the World

White Tigers vs. Species Survival Plans

Tired TigerEarlier this month, Slate posted an article titled “Why White Tigers Should Go Extinct.” It is one of the few explanations of the problems white tigers represent in popular media. While zoos often list them as “critically endangered,” these do represent a distinct subspecies. While individuals may exist in the wild, they are, by and large, the product of breeding at zoos. Unfortunatley, this leads to in-breeding, and problems that go along with that. Most white tigers are cross-eyed in one or both eyes. The breeding of white tigers distracts from larger conservation efforts, and take space in zoos for truly endangered animals that would truly benefit from conservcation efforts. Since 2011, the Assocaitation of Zoos and Aquaiums (AZA) has banned its members from breeding white tigers.

One of the things I found truly surprising was the comments. Overall, there was ignorance about white tigers. Most thought they really were a distinct species, a view which may not be fully discouraged when they visit a zoo.

Happy Tiger!So how do zoos breed for conservation purposes? For an endangered species, the AZA creates a Species Survival Plan (SSP). They maintain a studbook and match viable animals with each other. They ensure the genetic lines remain strong and diverse. For example, Namfon and Cutter, two fishing cat cubs born in the National Zoo in Washington, DC, were born as the result of an SSP-facilitated match between the zoo’s female, Electra, and Lek, a male born in the Cincinnati Zoo. What’s more, the SSP creates non-breeding plans, to prevent certain gene lines from being over-represented in the captive population.

Maintaining an endangered species in captivity is a delicate balance, and requires coordination among zoos. However, in doing so, they can ensure strong gene pools, and prevent in-breeding.


5 responses to “White Tigers vs. Species Survival Plans

  1. Lauri December 21, 2012 at 10:08 am

    I enjoyed this information. I am very glad so much care is taken with the breeding programs in zoos. Inbreeding or breeding that’s not being watched carefully could really hurt an entire species. And there just aren’t enough of some of these animals out there to be doing damage to them.

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  3. Angela December 24, 2012 at 8:28 pm

    So true. Enough damage has been done already. These breeding programs are many species last chance. The obsession with white tigers has to end.

  4. mimi torchia boothby December 25, 2012 at 10:24 am

    i am so glad to see SOMEONE finally addressing this problem..

  5. Moos January 6, 2013 at 2:59 pm

    Absolutely true. It is important that the information about the white tiger issues is spread and become common knowledge. It can be stressed enough that white tigers are just genetic aberrations and that there are no populations of them in the wild. To foster the genetic disorder inbreeding is necessary, and that is just what zoos have been doing. From evolutionary point of view they have less change of surviving in the wild, they will stand out in the Indian nature being that white and will therefore have problems killing prey. Another article can be found here:

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