Kenny, the Down Syndrome Tiger
Kenny was a “Down syndrome” tiger that gained wide publicity in the United States. Despite becoming a big star, he was actually a victim. A victim of selective inbreeding. A victim of the greed of people in the breeding industry. This resulted in him living a short life full of challenges until his death in 2008, as reported by the Pet Collective.
Kenny: the Product of Inbreeding
Kenny’s inbreeding was a result of the limited genetic pool of white tigers. White tigers are extremely rare. Therefore, breeders have only a few tigers to work with. With such a limited number, sooner or later, you’ll end up breeding closely related tigers.
That’s why Kenny’s parents were brother and sister.
Considering the risks of such inbreeding, Kenny was the lucky one of his siblings. Many of Kenny’s siblings were stillborn. Others died very young. Only Kenny managed to stay alive for a reasonable time. From two years of age, Kenny lived in the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Reserve.
Not Really Down Syndrome
But Kenny’s condition wasn’t actually Down syndrome. Down syndrome only occurs in humans. It results from chromosome 21 having a third copy, instead of the usual pair. But tigers have only 19 chromosomes compared to humans’ 23 chromosomes.
So, Down syndrome is an impossibility in tigers. What Kenny had was a Down-syndrome-like condition. He had features similar to those seen in human beings affected by Down syndrome. The most visible of which was his face.
Although people are often intrigued by “cute” animals, Kenny won over the hearts of many. But it was more than his out-of-the-ordinary looks that attracted crowds. The tiger was non-aggressive, unlike most wild tigers. He was very friendly with the wildlife reserve staff. This personality made him a favorite with visitors. And people considered his strange looks beautiful.
He was always on the spotlight for the eight years he lived in his enclosure with his brother.
The Tragic Tale of Kenny
Kenny’s popularity wasn’t the plan of his breeders. The breeders intended to mate Kenny’s parents to produce white tigers for profit. Unfortunately, they only produced stillbirths after stillbirths and ended up with a pair of deformed tigers: Kenny and his brother.
The breeders couldn’t get buyers for those two deformed tigers. You needed to look keenly to recognize Kenny as a tiger. He had an uncharacteristic short snout, pronounced dental issues, and a broad face. Even Willie, an orange tiger believed to be his brother, had crossed eyes.
Kenny, considered the first tiger with Down syndrome, had obvious physical limitations besides being mentally retarded. Fortunately, they were rescued and placed in a wildlife reserve.
The Dirty Truth about White Tigers
One myth that fosters breeding of white tigers, resulting in cases like Kenny, is that white tigers are an endangered species. White tigers are not a species. As Susan Bass of the Florida sanctuary Big Cat Rescue (BCR) states, white tigers are neither a species nor endangered. Simply put, they are not in the wild. Unfortunately, breeders, zoos, and entertainers perpetuate this lie.
The only time a white tiger was seen in the wild was in the 1950s. A light-colored cub was found among regular orange tigers. The person who saw it took it away. Current white tigers all descend from that original one. This means generations of repeated inbreeding to produce a double recessive gene responsible for the white coat in tigers. But a double recessive anything is hardly ever a good thing.
Even your favorite pet dog could be the result of such inbreeding. Just as tiger breeders practice inbreeding to produce the “perfect” white look, your “purebred” domestic dog or horse is also a result of inbreeding. Just like the white tigers, that “perfect” look in your pet comes with many genetic problems causing constant pain and disability. Ultimately, it leads to a short lifespan.
And it’s all supported by consumer demand.
Driven by demand, exotic pet stores and zoos try to recreate white tigers with large snouts, white fur, and blue eyes. However, that’s incredibly difficult while relying on a limited gene pool of a few white tigers. Instead, they end up with extremely high rates of deformities. That’s the sad reality of the years of inbreeding white tigers.
Why a Tiger’s White Coat is a Bad Thing
What’s so bad about a white coat? Well, the same gene causing white coats in tigers also causes wiring of the optic nerves to the wrong side of the brain. That means every single white tiger is cross-eyed. Even the most normal looking white tiger is cross-eyed. That’s the tip of the iceberg.
White tigers suffer multiple deformities, including:
- cleft palates
- club feet
- defective organs
- spinal deformities
No wonder the poor tigers endure health complications like kidney problems. That’s not even considering the issue of a white coat making the tiger stand out too much, which makes survival impossible. They eventually die younger than regular tigers.
Even tigers that look normal after inbreeding aren’t entirely problem-free. They suffer the same defects as white tigers. That’s why they are referred to as “throw away tigers.” They are killed at birth since they can’t make any money for the breeders. And if you think white tigers are purebred, they aren’t.
They are all crossbreeds between Siberian and Bengal tigers. That means breeding them doesn’t serve any conservation purpose.
The good news is that a 2008 ban on white tiger breeding was formalized by the American Zoological Association (AZA) in June 2011. It also included a ban on breeding king cheetahs and white lions by AZA member zoos. Therefore, AZA-accredited zoos are required not to breed any such animals.
However, since such practices exist because there’s a demand for them, you can do your part in curbing the vice by merely avoiding any place breeding white tigers. Take it one step further by not supporting the so-called “purebred” dogs. There are many other beautiful, healthy normal animals.