Tiger With ‘Down Syndrome’ From Sibling Parents Has a Cross-Eyed Brother, Experts Explain Why

In the realm of internet sensations, Kenny the white tiger with Down syndrome has captured the hearts and attention of people worldwide. Stories of his challenging life and unique appearance have circulated since the early 2000s, turning him into a viral sensation. However, it's important to debunk these stories, as the truth behind Kenny's life is quite different.

Contrary to popular belief, most animals, especially felines, cannot develop Down syndrome, including Kenny. In reality, Kenny was rescued from an abusive breeder who deemed him too unattractive to sell. So, what is the real story behind Kenny, and why does he have a cross-eyed brother?

Exploitative Breeding of White Tigers

To understand Kenny's situation, we must delve into the exploitative breeding practices surrounding white tigers. White tigers are not a separate species and are not endangered, despite common misconceptions. According to Scientific American, these majestic creatures are the result of a genetic mutation that occurs when two orange tigers with rare recessive forms of a gene breed. Their scarcity in the wild can be attributed to their lack of adequate camouflage, making it harder for them to hunt or evade predators.

However, white tigers are prevalent in captivity, where roadside menageries and collectors breed them for profit. These breeding practices often involve inbreeding over multiple generations to maintain their rare coat color, leading to physical deformities and health problems. The last recorded sighting of a white tiger in the wild dates back to the 1950s, and all white tigers in captivity are believed to be descendants of a single male Bengal tiger named Mohan. Mohan was bred to an orange tiger and then to his own daughter from that breeding.

According to The Dodo, breeders resort to continuous inbreeding to achieve the double-recessive gene combination necessary for white tigers. This results in generations of inbreeding, causing a myriad of health and physical complications. Most white tigers suffer from cross-eyes, kidney problems, spine issues, and other deformities.

Apart from the detrimental effects of inbreeding and physical deformities, the exploitation of white tigers extends to their use for entertainment purposes. Many people are drawn to these magnificent animals, making them a popular attraction in Las Vegas and other entertainment venues. However, the breeding and mistreatment of white tigers for entertainment purposes are highly unethical. These creatures are often subjected to mistreatment and forced to perform in unnatural environments.

Susan Bass, a representative of the Florida-based sanctuary Big Cat Rescue, emphasizes that white tigers are not a separate species, are not endangered, and are not found in the wild. It is crucial to dispel these misconceptions and raise awareness about the exploitative breeding practices surrounding white tigers.

Kenny's Story Sheds Light on Exploitative Breeding

Kenny, the white tiger with Down syndrome, was born in 1998 and faced a challenging start to life. He was rescued by the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge in 2000 from a tiger farm in Bentonville, Arkansas. The Mirror reported that Kenny had lived in unsanitary conditions during his first two years, highlighting the deplorable conditions in which he and other tigers were kept.

Kenny had a cross-eyed brother named Willie, who was the only other surviving cub from their litter. Interestingly, their parents were siblings, which contributed to their facial deformities and health issues. The breeder claimed that Kenny's facial deformities were a result of him repeatedly smashing his face into a wall, but this was far from the truth. In fact, Kenny had almost been killed at birth.

At one point, the white tiger trade was highly profitable, with "ideal" cubs fetching prices upwards of $36,000. However, by 2019, the price had plummeted to around $4,000. In 2000, when the breeder contacted the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, he initially demanded nearly $8,000 for Kenny and Willie. Eventually, he relented and handed them over for free.

Although photos of Kenny went viral with claims that he had Down syndrome, the animal curator for Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge confirmed that mentally, Kenny was no different from any other tiger. He enjoyed playing with his favorite toy, running around in his habitat, and even munching on grass. Sadly, Kenny's life was cut short in 2008 when he succumbed to melanoma, a type of skin cancer. His passing occurred below the average age for tigers in captivity, highlighting the challenges faced by these magnificent creatures.

Final Thoughts

Kenny the white tiger, once dubbed the "world's ugliest tiger," captivated the internet with stories of his life and appearance. However, it's important to separate fact from fiction and understand the truth behind his story. Kenny's journey sheds light on the exploitative breeding practices of white tigers, which involve inbreeding and lead to physical deformities and health issues.

These animals are not a separate species, are not endangered, and are not found in the wild. The mistreatment of white tigers for entertainment purposes further emphasizes the need for ethical treatment of these majestic creatures.

Wynne Lee, MD

Dr. Wynne Lee is a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), where she provides primary care.

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