The White Tiger is one of the strongest tools in today's conservation arsenal.
How is the White Tiger assisting in wildlife conservation?
"The answer is simple. You justify white tigers in exactly the same way you justify giant pandas, koalas and other high visible animals which, through the ability to catch the public fancy, significantly enhances public support and therefore the financial well-being of your institution, [zoo's that exhibit white tigers] see results that are readily measurable in increased revenues."
"The bottom line realities of life are that long-term conservation appropriation programs are accomplished only with the stable financial and public support. Institutional survival and species survival may be as tightly linked as any to genetic traits." [Dr. Lee G. Simmons - White Tigers: The Realities, p389 Tigers of the World: the biology, biopolitics, management and conservation. Tilson/Ulysses] In addition, the breeding program that Dr. Simmons first developed for the white tiger was the foundation start for today’s AZA Species Survival Program.
There has been an 8% increase in white tigers within AZA zoo's in the last 20 months in 2011-2013.
Zoo's and wildlife parks depend greatly on gate attendance, gift shop sales, and concessions as a bulk to be able to fund their conservation programs. Conservation is not cheap, it is very expensive. So the burden of keeping the gate attendance up and the general viewing public involved rest solely on the zoo. Without these, there would be no money to feed animals, pay professional staff, zoo keepers, biologist, and fund conservation programs.
White Tiger - a Zoo "SuperStar"
So, take this as a good example: An AZA zoo (Blank Park Zoo, IA) brought in one white tiger for a summer season, and it saw its gate attendance rocket up to 110%. Just think of all the programs this one, single white tiger was able to provide this zoo with, and the tools needed for today's zoo management and conservation programs.
Another AZA zoo, (Seneca Park Zoo, NY) brought in a white tiger in for the summer of 2009 and they saw the attendance revenue sky rocket to $1.9 million, sending the attendance revenue supporting over 47% of the entire zoo’s operation budget.
In April 2015, the Emperor Valley Zoo, after learning that the Forest Commission was cutting its conservation budget for the Manzanilla turtle project, stepped up with their white tiger cubs and raised over $100,000 for the project. Problem solved.
Additionally, some zoo's are not fortunate enough to own their own white tigers, and depend on others to "loan" the animal to them. Such is the case with the Potawatomi Zoo in Indiana. That AZA zoo depends on borrowing or leasing their white tiger, which is a huge favorite with their visitors.
Unfortunately, it takes more than just good-will to do good things in the zoo and conservation world,...it takes money and public support. The white tiger provides both of these.
Could the white tiger survive in the wild? Outspoken and opinionated critics like Ron Tilson of the AZA's Tiger SSP say the coloration is just an aberrant mutation, a freak of nature destined to die out.
This ignores that fact that most animals do not see in color, and the white color of a tiger might not be any disadvantage when hunting prey. And as many documents show, there are several wild tigers captured in India that must have carried the white gene.
One thing is for sure, we humans see our world in full color and white attracts our attention, our admiration, and our desire - the desire to possess, especially anything rare. Some seek to possess of the living being, others want the trophy body. Either way, over time the white tiger was selectively removed from nature whenever man observed it.
The white tiger lives in a captive habitat controlled by humans. Someday, captivity may be the only environment where any tigers live. Humans are the major selection factor that determines what genes get passed on to the next generation. In the private sector the genes that please humanity are the ones chosen by breeders and collectors to survive - personalities that are reliable and stable and colors that delight the senses are selectively allowed to reproduce and flourish.
The AZA zoo community concentrates on maintaining three sub-species pure tiger populations, importing new pedigreed-to-the-wild breeding stock to build up their tiny gene pools. The entire population of Indo-Chinese tigers in the SSP had only 4 founders until more wild tigers were imported a few years ago. The Sumatran tiger plan has just 14 founders. Zoos continue to seek out new wild blood in the hopes of building a captive population for future reintroduction onto the wild. Great sums of money are spent each year for a plan that deliberately ignores the conservation value of the already existing generic tiger population. These tigers exist in captivity in great abundance and could be exhibited by zoos to educate the public about the ecological role and conservation needs of the species so that wild specimens or captive purebred subspecies are not needed.
AZA's SSP Actually Unnecessary ?
Ironically this AZA approach to tiger sub-species purity management might someday be universally accepted as unnecessary if the findings published in a paper titled Tiger (Panthera tigris) molecular diversity and conservation genetics: Progress towards a better understanding of the evolution of Asian cats submitted by Warren E Johnson to the AZA Felid TAG receives further scientific corroboration. In this paper, Johnson writes "Relatively low genetic variation was found among all tiger subspecies, particularly with mtDNA and DRB markers, where tigers had tenfold less overall variation compared with other Felidae species. Genetic homogenization of the entire species was followed by rapid dispersal throughout its current distribution. Since 20,000 to 25,000 years ago, genetic drift and reduced gene flow has led to a small amount of genetic differentiation among some tiger populations. Although, recognizable, these differences are relatively slight, suggesting perhaps that there has been insufficient time for subspecies-level genetic adaptation to be established and that tiger populations and subspecies do not necessarily have to be managed in isolation."
Has the AZA's SSP program helped the wild tiger population?
The AZA is a fine organization, but it is not the "go to" for all wild tiger conservation projects. The AZA's Tiger SSP covers all remaining wild tiger species EXCEPT the Bengal Tiger, which India oversee's. Ironically, the Bengal Tiger is the only species of tigers in the wild that has seen a significant population increase, (India's tiger population increases by 30% - 2015). Obviously India is doing something right !
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- There are 65 white tigers on exhibit in 34 of the 223 AZA accredited zoo's in the US. 15% of the AZA zoo's are now exhibiting white tigers. It is belived that just over 400 white tigers are being held world wide.
- This (white tigers on exhibit) is a 8% increase in white tigers within AZA zoo's in the last 20 months.
- Current AZA accredited zoo's are 223, up from only 213 last year, only a 1% increase.
- There are 301 non-AZA accredited zoo's, aquariums, wildlife centers and refuges, which is up 67% from 2010 with a total of 203, (source Michigan State University, Department of Zoology, Zoo and Aquarium Science Program)
Truth About White Tigers, All About White Tigers, White Tigers High Conservation Value
Actual archive video from the Smithsonian Institution. President Eisenhower received the United State's first white tiger on the White House lawn, presented from India, as a "gift to all the American people to remind us of the wonderful gifts that Mother Nature has bestowed upon us, (Dec 5, 1960).
The tigris name was "Mohini", (which means "Enchantress"). The person seen given "Mohini" a snack is Dr. Theodore Reed, Director, National Zoological Park, Smithsonian Institution, (National Zoo).
Note: The presentation was very quick so "Mohini" could get cleaned up and to her huge and brand new quarters at the zoo, where she lived an incredible long life to 21 years, (Born Oct 30, 1958, Died April 2, 1979). Tigers very rarely live past the age of 11 years in the wild. Something to be said of the care that was given to her. "Mohini" did a 3 year visit to then Chicago Zoo, 1973-1976. Some zoo's are lucky enough to have her direct decedents today.