A few weeks ago, I volunteered at the Carolina Tiger Rescue, the nonprofit organization I mentioned in an earlier blog post. The experience was fabulous; as a volunteer, I helped clear a fire break around their fenced compound, to prevent a possible wild fire from entering the area and endangering buildings, humans, and animals. Not only did I build arm muscle, but I got to use massive clippers and a machete!
Along with service, education was an important part of the trip. Each wild cat in the Rescue had a moving story as to how they ended up at the compound, almost all with a tragic beginning. For many, their present and futures look promising, however: for every cat that must be kept in isolation because the presence of humans or loud noises or whatnot frighten them or make them anxious, there are animals like Jellybean, the only white tiger in the compound and who came originally from the Nashville Zoo, who revel in human attention.
White tigers are of scientific and conservational interest–Jellybean is, in fact, a genetic anomaly caused by a double recessive gene so rare that the last white tiger found in the wild was found in the 1950s. Many breeders of white tigers, who are in the business for the money from selling healthy, good-looking white tigers, claim that maintaining the white tiger “species” is for conservation reasons, but really the white tiger is not a separate species, but the result of inbreeding. White tigers would not survive in the wild in any case, because they have lost the distinctive orange and black camouflage that protects them. Mohan, the white tiger found back in the 50s, was inbred to its offspring in the attempt to produce more white cubs, and Jellybean is one of its descendants. However, as any biologist knows, inbreeding is BAD. Many cubs are born with genetic anomalies and physical defects–these cubs cannot be used in zoos or for entertainment purposes, and are often
euthanized, abandoned, or sold to traveling circuses, for instance. Additionally, there are often many cubs produced during these breedings that have the normal orange and black coloring, but who face the same tragic fate as the unwanted white tiger cubs–they would be lucky to end up in a safe place like the Carolina Tiger Rescue. There are many websites and articles dedicated to this issue, and what’s being done about it, like this one on the Encylopedia Britannica Advocacy for Animals site.
To end on a more upbeat note, however, Jellybean and Rajaji (below) and the other wild cats have a safe (even safer with our clearing of the fire break!) home at the Carolina Tiger Rescue, as well as at other sites like the Big Cat Rescue. These organizations can be supported in a variety of ways, from volunteer work, to “adopting” a cat, to educating others, to purchasing items from their gift shops (see photo of tiger tattoo below!).