The golden tabby tigers are one of the rarest forms of tigers found in the world. We call these tigers by various names: golden tigers, golden tabby tigers, or strawberry tigers. Due to no official name, people mostly refer to these tigers as strawberry tigers. This obscure color variation is caused by a recessive gene called the ‘wide-band gene,’ which is only found in captive tigers.
Currently, at TCWR we have 2 golden tabby tigers: a male named Tigger and a female named Khaleesi. Tigger resides currently in our habitats, which we call Lowers while Khaleesi resides currently in the Discovery Area. Guests visiting here are able to see them both in the open-air, guided educational tram tours.
Like white tigers, golden tigers do not qualify as a separate species. Instead, these cats simply have 2 copies of a recessive gene resulting from the inbreeding of Bengal tigers. Currently, about 30 of these tigers exist in the world. But more tigers are carriers of this particular gene. All known golden tigers live in captivity because of roadside zoos and pseudo facilities captive breeding programs.
A golden tiger’s coat color is much lighter than that of other tigers. Their striping is much paler than usual and may fade into spots or large patches. The lighter fur coloration would cause these tigers to have a disadvantage if they were ever to live in the wild. This is because of their reduced camouflage capability. Scientific research involving this particular variety of tigers remains scarce due to their limited numbers. Yet, researchers have made one rather exciting observation. Various tests indicate that these tigers appear to be slightly more intelligent than other tigers. Golden tiger’s intelligence is one of the reasons why private owners and roadside-zoos consider them to be the ideal pet and big cat for breeding and entertainment purposes.
The first golden tiger was born in captivity at the Adriatic Animal Attractions in Florida in 1983. All golden tigers seem to be traceable to a white tiger named Bhim. He was the son of Tony, a male white tiger born in 1972. Bhim was a carrier of the wide-band gene.
Bhim was bred to:
- His sister Sumita = (giving birth to) stripeless white tigers
- Regular orange tigress Kimanthi = (giving birth to) Indira – orange tiger
- His daughter Indira = (giving birth to) striped white, stripeless white, regular orange, and 3 golden tabby tigers
Because of how unusual they look, some people think that golden tigers are big cat hybrids. However, analysis of their family tree shows that golden tigers are genetically normal orange tigers with 2 copies of a recessive modifying gene. Golden tigers and stripeless white tigers have this wide-band gene. These tigers carry this gene independently of the white-coated recessive gene.
- A white tiger inheriting two copies of the recessive wide-band gene = a stripeless white
- A normal orange tiger inheriting two copies of the wide-band gene = a golden tiger
What is the Wide-band gene?
The wide-band gene affects the bands on the agouti hairs. Agouti hairs are a type of fur coloration in which each hair displays alternating bands of dark and light pigmentation.
- Due to the effect of the gene on the hair shaft, golden tigers tend to have softer fur than their orange relatives.
- Male tigers have an average total length of 110 to 120 in., while females measure 94 to 104 in. Typically golden tigers are larger than orange tigers.
- The tail is typically 33 to 43 in. long
- The average weight of males is 488 lbs., while females are 308 lb.
Concerns & Future
We should never breed for golden tigers since inbreeding is necessary to create them. Due to extreme inbreeding, golden tigers inherit many genetic health issues. Fortunately, none of the golden tigers currently at TCWR show any concerning health conditions. Tigers are wild animals. They should never be kept as pets no matter what color of fur they have. If a golden tiger is found in the wild, it should be left alone. Let the process of evolution play its part.