White, Yellow and Black: What are the Differences Among These Types of Tiger?

White, Yellow and Black: What are the Differences Among These Types of Tiger?

White, Yellow and Black: What are the Differences Among These Types of Tiger?

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To shed light on the genetic anomalies and conservation statuses of these amazing animals, let us examine the distinctions between black, white and yellow tigers.

8th June 2024

By Khushi Maheshwari 

As the largest Asian big cat, tigers have long piqued people’s curiosity. Not only do their striking hue variations set them out visually, but they also beg a closer look at their environmental and genetic histories.

Black Tigers

Primarily found in India, black tigers, also known as melanistic tigers, are an uncommon genetic mutation of the Bengal tiger species. From the Similipal Tiger Reserve in Odisha, India, the first black tiger sighting was recorded in science in 1990. These tigers’ darker fur is caused by an overproduction of melanin caused by a gene. 

Black tigers, in contrast to their counterparts, have more dispersed stripes and, because of the intense colouration, frequently give the impression of being pure black. Black tigers are still an enigmatic presence in the wild, with less than 10 sightings in the last three decades.

White Tigers

White tigers are characterised by a recessive gene that causes leucism, not because they are albinos. 1951 saw the discovery of this hereditary condition in the wild close to Rewa in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Leucism permits the occurrence of stripes and blue eyes, in contrast to albinism. The first known white tiger was named Mohan, and he was captured by the Maharaja of Rewa. Mohan went on to become the ancestor of several white tigers kept in captivity. These days, white tigers are almost exclusively found in zoos and sanctuaries; they are extremely uncommon in the wild.

Yellow Tigers

The most common and well-known colouration is that of the yellow or orange tiger, or Panthera tigris. From the tropical woods of Indonesia to the icy expanses of Siberia, Asia is home to the majority of these tigers. They have dark vertical stripes and their fur colour varies from pale yellow to reddish-orange, on the classic yellow tiger. 

They can blend in well in their natural environment because of their colouring. Over 70% of all wild tigers worldwide are found in India, which is home to the world’s greatest population of yellow tigers.

Genetic influence on colour variations:

Certain genetic mutations are responsible for the colour variances among tigers. A variation of the Tabby/Agouti gene, which controls the distribution of black pigment, is the gene responsible for the pigmentation of black tigers. Leucism in white tigers is caused by a mutation in the SLC45A2 gene. The pigments pheomelanin and eumelanin combine to give yellow tigers their distinctive hue. These genetic variations can impact a tiger’s visibility in the wild and susceptibility to specific health problems, but they have no effect on the animal’s size or temperament.

Ethical Dilemma: should breeding happen for colour? 

There are ethical issues in breeding tigers for particular colour features, especially when they are kept in captivity. White tigers, for example, are more likely to experience health issues like deformities and eyesight impairment since they are frequently inbred to preserve their pigment. The larger objectives of conservation and the preservation of genetic variation are undermined by the emphasis on breeding for aesthetic reasons. The welfare of these animals and the importance of conservation initiatives that benefit the species as a whole, as opposed to specific colour variants, are at the core of ethical discussions.

Hurdles in Conservation: 

It is imperative to conserve tigers, no matter how different their colours may be. According to estimates from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), there are only about 3,900 wild tigers remaining in the world. The loss of habitat, poaching and conflicts between people and wildlife are serious challenges to their survival. Through community engagement and anti-poaching efforts, conservation projects such as India’s 1973 Project Tiger seek to maintain tiger habitats and expand the population of these animals. These magnificent creatures are still in danger due to the illegal trafficking of tiger parts and the desire for unusual pets, despite our best efforts.