Miami-Dade County

Iconic Zoo Miami white tiger euthanized

After a nearly 20-year career as part of a landmark exhibit at Zoo Miami, the white Bengal tiger known as “Carlita” was euthanized on Monday, the zoo announced.

Carlita was born in July 1992 and was transferred to Zoo Miami, where she began her career as part of the Tiger Temple exhibit in February 1994. She was paired with two other typically-colored Bengal tigers, Lyric and Roshe, and her color — or lack of it — helped her stand out and added to her popularity among zoo visitors, said zoo spokesman Ron Magill.

“There’s just something about that cat with the ice-blue eyes and that white fur,” Magill said.

The trio of tigers starred in the exhibit for many years, and Carlita remained the lone survivor. She also was among the last of a breed of tigers that were popular in the 1980s and 1990s, according to Magill. But the popularity and density of these animals in zoos nationwide diminished over time, partially because of breeding practices. Magill said that pairing the tigers wasn’t a guaranteed success and that, because of the rarity of the gene, inbreeding was common to try and create new cubs with the unique white fur.

“If you breed two white tigers, you don’t necessarily get a white tiger,” Magill said. “It led to unscrupulous breeding and basically promoting a mutation. It started to be a borderline circus act.”

Carlita remained a solo attraction, after her partners died, until May 2012, when she was retired into an enclosed forest area at the zoo. At 21 years old, she was considered a somewhat-exceptional animal, as tigers of her breed in the wild have a life expectancy of about 12 years.

The decision to euthanize her came after her health began to deteriorate rapidly in the past few weeks.

“She was a tiger, don’t get me wrong, but as tigers go she was a gentle soul, she was very easy to work around,” Magill said. “I saw a lot of tears today from people who worked with her.”

Magill said that the zoo has no plans to add a new white Bengal tiger to its exhibit. Instead, they are bringing in two endangered Sumatran tigers to the Tiger Temple, with hopes that they can be a future attraction and perhaps mate.

“We’re looking forward to the next era and hopefully getting them to breed,” Magill said. “If they do, it will be the first time in about 30 years that we’ll have tiger cubs at the zoo.”