Rolling Hills Zoo lost its beloved white tiger Raja on Thursday.
According to the zoo, Raja had to be euthanized as a result of failing health.
Raja, who would have been twenty years old in November, had been with the Zoo since before its opening. As one of its longest residents, he was much loved and revered by visitors and staff alike and will be greatly missed.
Raja came to the Rolling Hills Zoo in the summer of 1996 from a private breeder. While tigers are known for their distinctive black and orange stripes, Raja was a “white” tiger. The white tiger, which is found in the wild, is a pigmentation variant of the Bengal and possibly the Siberian tiger. White tigers, however, are not albinos as their pale coloration is due to a different genetic defect which causes a lack of the red and yellow pigments that normally produce the orange color. As with many genetic defects, individual tigers with this mutation are also susceptible to other life threatening disorders.
In the wild, tigers generally live on average from eight to twelve years depending upon the subspecies. In captivity, they live on average about sixteen to eighteen years and possibly in excess of twenty years. Males tend to live slightly longer than females. White tigers however, due to the challenges of their genetic makeup, tend to live much shorter lives. Raja was therefore an exception in that he has been with us for nearly twenty years.
In the wild, tigers throughout the world are threatened with extinction due to poaching, loss of habitat and being hunted taken for the medicinal trade. Once thought to have a worldwide population of over 100,000, it is now estimated that there are fewer than 3,200 tigers in the wild. Institutions like the Rolling Hills Zoo are part of a worldwide effort to help preserve these animals for the future.