As they get measured and weighed at their public debut, the four new white tiger cubs at a German wildlife park yowl and fuss like common alley cats whose tails have been accidentally stepped on, but the latest residents of the private Serengeti Safari Park in Hodenhagen are among the rarest animals in the world.
According to zoo officials, there are fewer than 250 white tigers worldwide, mostly in captivity. Apparently, they have a pretty tough time outside of zoos and parks.White Tigers Vulnerable To Predators, Poachers
"In the wild, white tigers rarely reach maturity because the mutation in their fur color makes them vulnerable to predators and poachers," the BBC reports in a video on its site.
Generally found in eastern Asia, including India and China, white tigers are born with a recessive gene that causes them to lack the usual orange pigment in their fur. (Unlike albino tigers, though, they do still have stripes.) According to the Indian Tiger Welfare Society, the mutation only turns up naturally about once in every 10,000 births.
Video via The Washington Post
Hearing about how their unusual coloring makes it tough for them to hide -- and survive -- prompted an obvious question: What purpose could the white fur serve? Wikipedia to the rescue once again:
Compared to orange tigers without the white gene, white tigers tend to be larger both at birth and at full adult size. This may have given them an advantage in the wild despite their unusual coloration.... Kailash Sankhala, the director of the New Delhi Zoo in the 1960s, said "one of the functions of the white gene may have been to keep a size gene in the population, in case it's ever needed."
It seems plausible, then, that when pitted against other animal predators, the white tiger's size could have been enough of an advantage to outweigh their lack of camouflage. Against a hunter with a gun, though, that advantage is largely lost. While it's sad to see any animal lose its place in the wild, it's nice to know these cute little cubs won't have to face those tough odds.
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