When I was enrolled in an Infographics class taught by Terence Oliver at the UNC School of Media and Journalism, I wanted to make my final illustration-based infographic about white tigers. They’re cute, stunningly beautiful, and very rare, making them even more interesting.
I eagerly looked at photos of white tiger cubs online, obsessed with their soft fur and bright blue eyes. They were the perfect combination of regal tigers and adorable kittens. I imagined the illustration I would make for this infographic: two cuddly white tiger clubs playing, their little paws up in the air, their mouths open in what would almost look like a smile… I couldn’t wait to get started.
Before starting research, I decided to do some preliminary research. I wanted information about what the tigers ate, where they were most common, why their fur was white, and how they were different from other tigers.
However, as I did more research, I noticed something troubling. All the sources I found about white tigers did not talk about how cute they were or what their favorite food was. Instead, I was finding quotes like this:
“The ONLY way to produce a tiger or lion with a white coat is through inbreeding brother to sister or father to daughter; generation after generation after generation.”
“The kind of severe inbreeding that is required to produce the mutation of a white coat also causes a number of other defects in these big cats.”
“Breeders of white tigers do not contribute to any species survival plan. They are breeding for money.”
I then realized that my dream of creating a cute, non-controversial infographic about white tiger cubs was not going to happen. Instead of reading about how tiger cubs like to play, I found myself reading about Kenny, the white tiger who was born with with Down Syndrome and physical deformities as a result of forced inbreeding.
Ignoring the huge problems in the breeding industry would be unethical. White tigers do not exist naturally and are inbred for profit because of our fascination with their beauty. Creating an infographic celebrating their beauty would only further perpetuate this problem. I knew it was my duty to tell the truth about these tigers, so I decided to make that the focus of my infographic.
It was time to completely change my creative direction.
I created an illustration of Kenny, the white tiger with Down Syndrome, and used the text in the infographic to discuss the problems with the breeding industry. Based on the research I did, I found four main problems with the white tiger industry:
White tigers are bred solely for captivity.
They wouldn’t survive in the wild- their white coats provide a significant disadvantage, making camouflaging and hiding nearly impossible.
The inbreeding leads to severe health problems.
While breeders talk about conservation, the real reason to breed these animals is financial. Because of the high demand and low supply of white tigers, the breeding industry is extremely profitable, even though many tigers cannot be sold because of their physical deformities.
Based on those four points, I divided the infographic up into four section, using a large illustration of Kenny to draw the viewer in. I added a faded chain link fence over Kenny to reinforce that these animals are only bred for captivity as sources of revenue.
Check out my infographic below to see the final product. Despite the unexpected change in direction midway through the project, I am glad that I was able to advocate for such a troublesome issue and create a piece with more meaning than “look at how cute these cubs are!” Especially since the popularity of those cubs is the reason this horrible industry is staying in business.