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Golden Tabby Tiger Sighting in Wild: A Reminder of the Perils of Captive Inbreeding

News this week of a golden tiger, also known as a tabby tiger spotted in Kaziranga National Park in North-eastern India, served as a reminder of the issues surrounding tigers with colour variations in captivity.

Conservationists are alarmed by the golden tabby tiger sighting in India because it suggests that inbreeding is occurring due to a tiger population that is too small within the area. Although there have been success stories of increased tigers in India, populations are still perilously low, and the species are still endangered. Wild tigers face many pressures, including poaching but also habitat degradation. Habitats are so fragmented that it is challenging for tigers to expand the gene pool if they are confined to a relatively small area without being able to move easily to find new mating opportunities.

golden tabby tiger
Golden tabby tiger in Thailand | For Tigers, 2018

Rather than being a different subspecies, golden tigers are a colour variant like white tigers. Both white and golden tigers are the result of recessive genes, something solely caused by irresponsible inbreeding. While golden tigers are seldom seen in zoos, white tigers are commonly displayed in many zoos worldwide and are often promoted as a very rare species. Informational signage at enclosures frequently implies to visitors that the white colour variation is a rarity. Some zoos have acknowledged that displaying white tigers is not conducive to conservation education messaging and have not replaced white tigers in their collections.


The breeding of white and golden tigers is both irresponsible and unethical. Inbred tigers do not make any contribution to tiger conservation. As space and resources in zoos are generally limited, displaying tigers without conservation value uses resources that could be spent on displaying an animal that contributes to conservation. Furthermore, there may be significant welfare impacts suffered by white or golden tigers because of their inbred state. Such tigers are more likely to suffer from a shortened lifespan and health defects caused by the recessive genes responsible for the colour mutation. There are a whole host of medical problems associated with inbreeding, including spinal deformities, hip dysplasia, crossed eyes, immune disorders and heart problems.


The golden tiger sighting in India and the concern it represents should once again highlight that the deliberate breeding of white and golden tigers in captivity as a means of zoos to promote a “rare” species within their collection should stop.







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