OK, so I could go on about the white tiger/lion debate forever and a day, but a situation that occured some time ago got me thinking quite deeply about this issue from an entirely different perspective.
Bear with me...
For me , environmental eduaction is the most useful realistic function a zoo has, and by extension the most powerful tool for change that any good keeper can wield against an ever growing sea of animal based ignorance. It then stands to reason that I feel an increased responsibility to my younger relatives to share that with them in the hope that at least they will be well equipped to preserve the earth and it's remaining treasures into the next generation.
Here's how I got to this. My young nephew a few years back was watching "power rangers" a program in which one of the characters is a white tiger robot transformer thingy, he's an inquisitive lad, so questions about real white tigers ensued and he took to the idea of white tigers being a bad thing much easier than I thought he might. He now delights in educating his friends and other children about the problems with white tigers and how "orange ones are the real ones". GREAT! you might say, and that it is indeed, but this has over the years since exposed to me a whole level of the white tiger/lion issue that I'd never thought of before my nephew pointed it out to me.
I'm nearly getting to the point (honest!).
On top of that, when I take my family out on trips to zoos and the like, we support the ones that in our view, are doing the best by their animals and by conservation, my nephew has absolutely no desire to see a white tiger and would probably reject the idea if you were to suggest it. A large number of zoos we visit have very educational signage around their normally coloured tigers which explain the origins of the white animals and why encouraging them is harming our remaining species. SUPER! I hear you cry, and my nephew would agree. but here's where the inconsistency comes.
Let me explain further, on a day out to an unnamed zoo (the name doesn't matter) once we reached the gift shop at the end of the day, as all kids do, he tore off to rumage about amongst the wall to wall toys and nic-naks. Suddenly he stopped (which for him was unusual) and pointed up slightly to shelves of plastic figures that are not uncommon in zoo shops and said "WHY is that in here? I thought they didn't like white tigers either??".... he was pointing at a white tiger figure and it was this that made me first realise how inconsistent some zoos are with the messages they are delivering. It was only after about a year of actually paying attention to these little things that I also realised that the idea we come away with as adults is far removed from the idea children come away with, even from respectable zoos that DO NOT support keeping or breeding of such animals.
I'm not going to name anyone here as the problem seems to be quite common and to single anyone out would be pretty unhelpful. Point is, since then I have visited at least 5 major UK zoos which openly oppose mutant cats but still stock their shelves full of gifts and toys that glorify such animals in the minds of the younger visitors, potentially the ones who need sensible guidance the most.
That aside, I recently thought I'd do an experiment to find out more, so I took a trip to one of my favourite zoos which does not and never has kept or supported mutant cats. I have massive respect for the collection and that is why I have such a hard time with this idea. Anyway, from a child's perspective I photographed every product that represented a mutant big cat in the hopes of getting an idea of what a child might see in the zoo gift shop, and what I found was surprising, not just one or two items but many of varying types.
Bottom line is that we are telling adults as good zoos, that white tigers and lions are of little if any value to the goal of the modern zoo and should be discouraged, but to the children we are holding them up with an almost god-like status without even realising. Is it time that zoos cleaned up their gift shops to reflect their values as a collection?? These toys are arguably as innapropriate in this context as toy guns or "my little poacher" sets might be.
Anyway, I'll let you have a look at what I found in just ONE small gift shop in ONE very good zoo, from a kid's perspective, are we sowing the seeds of the very ignorance we are trying to dispell??? You decide.
White tiger stalking through it's snowy alpine habitat (this collection actually holds genuine amur tigers which makes this even sadder to see!)
MUTANT CATS ARE FUN FOR EVERYONE KIDS!!!! YOU SHOULD LOVE THEM!!
Till next time, keep your eyes open when you're in gift shops and see what you find, this certainly isn't an isolated issue!!
As ever, comments and contributions are welcome folks...