Cuteness and questions after white tiger quadruplets born in Polish zoo

BORYSEW, Poland (Reuters) - The arrival of four baby white tigers has brought a cute new attraction to the zoo at Borysew, a town near the Polish city of Lodz, but the birth of the inbred species has also raised ethical questions.

The quadruplets - two females and two males - were born on March 21 after four years of searching for a suitable mother, Borysew zoo owner Andrzej Rabich said.

“The most important thing is to properly match (the tigers) genetically. It took us a few years to find a male and then a female,” he said. “There aren’t any of these white cats in the wild.”

White tigers are the result of interbreeding in zoos and are popular with visitors. But the American Zoological Association (AZA) said in June 2011 that such inbreeding could be “linked with various abnormal, debilitating and at times lethal conditions.”

Borysew zoo said the interbreeding only affects one gene, which changes the tigers’ colors but doesn’t affect the health of the cubs.

After years of decline, tiger numbers are on the rise and at least 3,890 remain in the wild, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said last year. On average, tigers give birth to two or three cubs. In the wild, tigers have been known to reach the age of 26 years.

Reporting by Janusz Chmielewski; Writing By Marine Hass; Editing by Tom Heneghan and Pritha Sarkar