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What Is a Snow Tiger?

By Lumara Lee
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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A snow tiger, or Panthera tigris, is a Bengal tiger with a coat that is white instead of the more common orange hue. Snow tigers are not a separate species. Also known as white tigers, snow tigers aren’t albinos. The white coloration occurs when each parent provides the recessive gene needed for white fur, an extremely rare occurrence in the wild. A snow tiger’s white coat most often has dark stripes just like those of an orange-colored Bengal tiger, although occasionally one is born with no stripes or with stripes so pale that they are barely noticeable.

Snow tigers reach maturity after two to three years. Male white tigers are larger then females. A male snow tiger can weigh up to 507 pounds (230 kilograms) and be almost 10 feet (3 meters) long, while the largest females weigh around 375 pounds (170 kilograms) and are about 8 feet (2.5 meters) long. Snow tigers are generally larger than their orange counterparts. This endangered species is almost extinct in the wild.

The snow tiger is native to India and Southeast Asia, but most of them live in zoos as a result of breeding programs to produce white offspring from captive tigers carrying the rare, recessive genes. A snow tiger is a carnivore, and eats other mammals such as wild boar, buffalo, deer, and goat in the wild. Newborn tigers drink mother’s milk, but switch to meat when they are several months old. Snow tigers are generally solitary as adults, but the female tends her offspring until they are able to take care of themselves, at around two to three years of age.

White tigers can’t run as far as some other wild cats, but since they hunt at night, they are able to catch prey using stealth. They prefer habitat with plenty of foliage for cover and a steady source of water. The adult snow tiger can eat an average of 40 pounds (18 kilograms) of meat a day, and will eat even more if food is plentiful after an especially good hunt.

Some people believe that the term snow tiger sometimes refers to the snow leopard, a close relative of the Bengal tiger. Others believe that the term snow tiger refers to the larger Siberian tiger, since it lives in a snowy habitat. The Siberian tiger is orange, however, and so far there is only rumor that white Siberian tigers exist.

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Discussion Comments
By Mor — On Aug 01, 2014

@browncoat - How many groups breeding tigers are actually doing it for the good of the species though? I know we like to imagine that every tiger is being kept by organizations dedicated to conservation, but that simply isn't true, even within the USA, let alone in countries where animal welfare is even more poorly legislated.

By browncoat — On Aug 01, 2014

@bythewell - People just love white tigers though. And, unfortunately, the resources that are used in the battle to try and save the tiger species come from people. So deliberately breeding white tigers might or might not be the best thing to do for the genetic heritage of the species, but it's a very good thing to do for propaganda in order to collect more goodwill and resources for all tigers.

Besides, since they are actually statistically larger than orange tigers, they probably aren't just the result of a single gene mutation, so losing the genetic heritage of white tigers isn't a good idea either. I'm sure that anyone who is breeding tigers with conservation in mind is keeping a close and careful eye on genetic issues.

By bythewell — On Jul 31, 2014

I'm not sure so many resources should be poured into making sure that snow tigers continue to exist, when tigers as a whole are on the brink of total extinction. Snow tigers are beautiful, but it's just a different color. If they are that rare, I'm sure that there is a little bit, or even a lot, of inbreeding going on in order to keep the recessive genes pure.

At the moment, tigers need to keep as much genetic diversity as possible and inbreeding on purpose is the worst thing scientists could be doing for the species.

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