The white tiger is not a breed of its own, but actually a type of Bengal tiger. While they are sometimes bred with Siberian tigers as a way of manipulating genetics to produce white tigers in captivity, this breed is extremely rare in the wild. This is partially because of the genetic rarity of such a tiger being conceived in nature, and also because in the wild, their white-and-black coloring prevents them from camouflaging themselves while hunting -- that makes it harder for them to survive.
Where Tigers Live
Bengal tigers often live in the dense jungles of Asian countries like India and China, while Siberian tigers are found in Russia. White tigers are generally Bengal tigers born with a genetic defect that prevents the orange pigmentation for which tigers are typically known. Because of this, and the fact that Bengal tigers of any kind are an endangered species, the number of white tigers currently living in the wild -- and their exact whereabouts -- is unknown but assumed to be miniscule.
The Gene Pool
White tigers are born because of a rare genetic mutation that affects approximately one in every 10,000 tigers in the wild -- for reference, as of 2013, fewer than 10,000 tigers even live in the wild. This recessive gene is most commonly found as a result of inbreeding, particularly between a male tiger and his offspring. For this reason, most white tigers -- if not all -- live in captivity, and are often bred purposely to encourage a lack of pigmentation.
Because the natural occurrence of a white tiger is so rare, the continued existence of this animal is almost entirely because of human conservation efforts. These efforts are controversial, however, because white tigers are not a breed in and of themselves -- they are simply discolored Bengal tigers. The forced inbreeding of white tigers comes with a high risk of serious birth defects, calling into question the ethics of propagating these creatures.
Tigers in Captivity
Because white tigers are so rarely born in the wild -- if ever -- most of them are found living in captivity. This means that in countries around the world, even ones in which tigers aren't naturally founds, white tigers live almost exclusively in zoos, circuses and other places where animals are put on display. White tigers may also be found in rescue sanctuaries, particularly when they are born with the genetic defects so common in this type of cat.
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Tom Ryan is a freelance writer, editor and English tutor. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in English writing, and has also worked as an arts and entertainment reporter with "The Pitt News" and a public relations and advertising copywriter with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.