White tigers in captivity have become deformed after generations of inbreeding, according to Big Cat Rescue.
The only way to produce a tiger with a white coat is through breeding one with a brother, sister, father or daughter. This kind of severe inbreeding leads to mutations in white tigers.
Kenny is one of the most notable examples of the results of inbreeding white coat tigers. He arrived at the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas in 2000 after being rescued from a private breeder. He was born with a short snout, broad face and oddly angled teeth.
In June 2011, the board of directors for the American Zoological Association formalized a ban on breeding white tigers, lions or king cheetahs by its member zoos.
“Breeding practices that increase the physical expression of single rare alleles through intentional inbreeding, for example intentional breeding to achieve rare color-morphs such as white tigers … has been clearly linked with various abnormal … conditions,” the AZA wrote in a statement.
The same gene that produces white coats also causes the optic nerve to be wired to the wrong side of the brain. As a result, all white tigers are cross-eyed. They can also suffer from club feet, cleft palates, spinal deformities and defective organs.
“These are not a species, they are not endangered, they don’t need to be saved, they shouldn’t exist,” Susan Bass, public relations representative for the Florida sanctuary Big Cat Rescue, said. “[Breeders and owners are] duping the public into thinking that they need conservation, and paying money to see them.”
Kenny eventually died from melanoma in 2008.