Jacob.jose, Wikimedia Commons

There are six subspecies of tiger alive today: Bengal, Malayan, IndoChinese, Siberian, South China, and Sumatran, all of whom are endangered. The total population of wild tigers worldwide is estimated between 4,600-7,700 -- a 95% decrease in the last 100 years alone. This has been due to excessive poaching to acquire the animals’ fur, meat, and bones. Habitat destruction not only shrinks the land where tigers roam, but it also destroys their prey. Tigers are the largest of the big cats and require a great deal of food to survive.

The total population of wild tigers worldwide is estimated between 4,600-7,700 -- a 95% decrease in the last 100 years alone. In comparison, there are an estimated 5,000 tigers kept as exotic pets in the USA. If it hasn't already happened, the number of tigers in captivity will soon out number those living in the wild.

Some conservationists are pessimistic about the tiger’s chance of survival. They believe that the number of mature, breeding adults is too low to rebound to a sustainable population. Other groups solidly disagree, as certain populations in Nepal have seen a 63% increase over the last few years. Thirteen countries with native tiger populations have banded together to try to double the wild population by 2022. The effort includes breeding programs and habitat conservation.

 

White tigers are a completely different story. They are not a distinct species, nor are they albino. Rather, they are Bengal/Siberian tigers with recessive traits that manifest as white fur and blue eyes. “Stripeless” tigers have very faint stripes, and are seen as an even more exceptional anomaly.

 

White tigers are not bred for conservation; they are extensively inbred purely for aesthetic purposes. While this does generate interest in the public, the genetic diversity is drastically decreasing in these cats, resulting in health problems such as crossed eyes, neurological deficiencies, cleft palates, and scoliosis (to name a few), if the individual is lucky enough to not have been stillborn. Additionally, these tigers are unable to be released into the wild, as the lack of pigmentation robs the animal of much needed camouflage when finding food. 

 

Ultimately, white tigers become entirely dependent on humans for survival because of the list of health problems. Some breeders attempt to surrender their sickest cubs to animal sanctuaries in order to save resources and try to breed again more quickly. A growing number of sanctuaries are forced to decline, as not to be an “easy out” to the breeder.

 

In the summer of 2011, the American Zoological Association banned the practice of breeding for specific traits of all animals, tigers included. The issue for zookeepers has been a mix of ethics and principle. While animals bred for specific traits keeps attendance numbers up which funds the care for their animals, the extensive inbreeding is counterintuitive to the entire conservation effort.

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