There is an interesting article in Slate about the white tiger and how it is described to the public by the zoos as an endangered species when it really is a manifestation of a mutant gene that is a result of massive inbreeding programs by zoos to create a popular attraction.
This story has local connections- the Cincinnati Zoo is the zoo highlighted in the article for breeding white tigers and selling them for a profit, including the white tigers used by Sigfried and Roy.
The Cincinnati Zoo, an otherwise respectable institution, labels their white tigers as a “species at risk!” Nowhere on the zoo’s website or at its tiger enclosures does it point out that this species at risk is in fact an ecologically useless hybrid of Bengal and Siberian strains, inbred at the zoo’s own facility for big money. The Cincinnati Zoo repeatedly bred closely related animals over the past few decades to produce more of the white tigers, which they sold for around $60,000 each.
One of the Cincinnati Zoo’s biggest sales was to the illusionists Siegfried and Roy. The Vegas duo bought three white tigers from the zoo in the early 1980s (along with stock from other sources) and quickly set up their own breeding program. Incorporating the white tigers into their act, Siegfried and Roy introduced the breed to millions of Americans. They referred to the cats as “royal white tigers” and, out of what was probably a good intention, gave the public the impression that this was an endangered species that they were helping to protect. Their famous Las Vegas show ended in 2003 when Roy Horn was mauled on stage in front of a horrified audience by one of his own white tigers. To date, Siegfried and Roy continue to claim on their website that their white tiger breeding program is part of a conservation effort aimed at saving “an endangered species.”
Guess it’s like saying the Labradoodle is an endangered species…