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Can a Tiger Have Down Syndrome: The Story of Kenny

May 28, 2021 6 min read

Can a Tiger Have Down Syndrome: The Story of Kenny

Just like humans, Tigers are subject to all sorts of genetic malformations. In the best of cases, these handicaps are very slight and are not even noticeable to the naked eye. However, some species of animals are more severely affected by genetic diseases. This is the case of Kenny, the first White Trisomic Tiger.

This last one knew an essential media coverage because of the numerous malformations he was a victim. He became the symbol of the fight for genetic diversity for animals in captivity. These anomalies are not specific to White Tigers and have already affected many other species, like Kanako, the chimpanzee.

The general public is still relatively unexposed to this sad theme. Zoological parks prefer to keep this kind of problem quiet to avoid scandals. But it is essential to talk about it to find solutions that will ensure the sustainability of species in captivity.

That is why today, we will try to enlighten you on Kenny the Down Syndrome Tiger. We will also explain the different problems that all White Tigers are facing.

The story of Kenny, the Down Syndrome White Tiger

tiger with kenny

 As said before, Kenny has become a true international star. Born from brother and sister parents, he has many deformations in his face, which explains his nickname of "Trisomic Tiger." His muzzle is wholly deformed, as well as his mouth, preventing him from closing his mouth. Because of this, Kenny drools a lot, which makes his disease even more apparent.

This poor Tiger was born in 1998 in the United States, in Arkansas, not far from Memphis. It is a tiger breeder who programmed his birth by mating 2 of his white tigers. His goal was to get a white tiger cub to sell at a good price. However, the inbreeding will give birth to the first Trisomic Tiger known to this day: Kenny!

In addition to his facial deformities, the little fawn has motor problems that prevent him from moving with ease. But also a crucial intellectual deficiency in comparison with the other Tigers. What is surprising is that his brother Willie was born as he looks like a classic Bengal Tiger. His coat is quite traditional, and he has no physical deformities, although he is affected by acute strabismus.

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 Because of their peculiarities, the owner of the 2 Tigers did not manage to sell them for a reasonable price. So, although his intention was very questionable, he had at least the kindness to entrust them to a Tiger Reserve. The two brothers will join a refuge called Turpentine Creek in Arkansas.

They adapted very quickly to their new environment and the staff of the refuge. The 2 Tigers will become the darlings of the visitors and, in particular, Kenny! One would have expected people to be hostile to the Tiger's deformities, but the exact opposite happened.

Unfortunately, Kenny, the Trisomic Tiger, and his brother would not live long. Kenny died in 2008 at the age of 10, and Willie 2 years later at 12. It was a somewhat predictable thing considering the genetic heritage of the 2 Tigers. As a reminder, the life expectancy of a Tiger in captivity is between 20 and 25 years.

A handicap specific to white felines

white felines

 Kenny was a Down's syndrome Tiger, but he was above all a White Tiger. This particularity is not insignificant because White Tigers are much more affected by genetic anomalies. Contrary to popular belief, the White Tiger is not a subspecies in its own right, but simply a Bengal Tiger with a monster. Indeed, the latter has a recessive allele that causes a lack of melanin in their body. This phenomenon gives them the white pigmentation so characteristic of their fur.

Tiger Trisomy is not a trisomy because Kenny did not have any extra or missing chromosomes. However, he was a carrier of a recessive gene which caused him to have this genetic mutation. All White Tigers carry a unique gene to them and pass it on to their descendants. This is why the coloring of these Tigers is passed on from generation to generation.

However, it is essential to specify that white Tigers do not have albinism. Their genome allows them to have black stripes, which is impossible in albino Tigers. The latter is entirely white and is often mistaken for panthers.

Nevertheless, it seems essential to us to make people aware that Kenny or any other animal called "trisomic" does not have his malformations from animal abuse. The genes are the only ones responsible for the physical appearance of these animals; the veterinarians or the zookeepers have nothing to do with it. They only care for these animals as best they can to give them the best life possible.

The existence of the White Tiger results from a genetic anomaly, but why would it be more sensitive to deformities? In reality, it's straightforward; White tigers are naturally more fragile because of the poverty of their genes. The trisomy of the Tiger affects and will continue to act in the majority of these white felines. That's why we observe so many problems in this population of Tigers.

But another element makes the trisomy even more specific to this line of Tigers. We'll see it right away in this last part. By the way, if you want to learn more about the White Tiger, we invite you to read our article!

The Origin of Down Syndrome in this fawn

kenny the trisomic tiger

The main problem that will lead us to observe more and more cases of trisomy in Tigers is inbreeding. All White Tigers result from incest between a male and his daughter. In this way, all White Tigers are brothers and sisters. This makes the whole population inbred and prone to many malformations, including "Tiger Trisomy."

This phenomenon is unfortunately not ready to stop. Because all these Tigers are brothers and sisters, it is impossible to establish genetic diversity. This makes it impossible to create a new lineage, which would solve the problem entirely. To this day, science has still not found a solution. We are not yet able to do miracles in genetics.

A few figures attest to this genetic impoverishment: 80% of White Tigers die at birth or soon after because of inbreeding. The female has many miscarriages before giving birth to viable babies. The remaining 20% suffer from many problems, such as strabismus, trisomy, or severe muscle pain that they will suffer all their life.

Only 1 out of 40 White Tigers is born in perfect health; this figure was 1 out of 20 25 years ago. This study shows that the number of healthy White Tigers is bound to decrease. Thus, we are condemned to see the genes of these animals getting poorer and poorer. Kenny may be the first Down's Syndrome Tiger, but he is certainly not the last. It would not be surprising to see a Tiger with a similar pathology in a few years to his.

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Other animals affected by Trisomy

trisomy animals

As we said in the introduction, the Tiger is not the only species affected by this genetic anomaly. Other animals such as the Lion, the Gorilla and even the cat can be affected by this syndrome.

If you look carefully at the pictures, you can see that these poor animals are affected by a more or less important trisomy. We can see that it is characterized by a deformation of the muzzle and an abnormally high spacing of the eyes. Sometimes, it is possible that a malformation at the level of the mouth prevents the animal to close this last one, as it is the case with Kenny for example.

Anyway, with this part we realize that all animals are susceptible to genetic problems. These phenomena are not specific to humans or tigers but affect all species!

To summarize

The Trisomic Tiger is not an exception but belongs to a group of genetic mutations that White Tigers undergo. These handicaps make the life of these animals a real hell, that's why zoos try to take care of them the best they can. Animals with a mutation are forbidden to be bred to avoid chromosomal abnormalities as much as possible.

It is important to open our eyes to the current situation of the White Tiger in order to avoid further genetic massacres. Because the condition of these animals will not evolve positively with time. The future of this lineage is very controversial, we even wonder if it would not be wiser to prevent any reproduction.

This could be a solution since this species is already condemned to extinction. Forcing an extinction by preventing mating would allow us to spare future White Tigers from a painful and painful life. Whatever the case, the priority remains to treat with as much love as possible these animals that embody the beauty as well as the cruelty of nature.

Feel free to tell us what you think in the comments, we will be happy to answer you!

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