The golden tiger (golden tabby tiger, strawberry tiger) is even rarer than the white colour morph. There are records of golden Bengal tigers in India dating back to the early 1900s (as "stripeless" tigers). In 1929, Pocock described a brown tiger with stripes only a little darker than the coat's background colour and a similar tiger ("Jasmine") has been bred by Josip Marcan. The last recorded wild golden specimens were a pair shot in 1932 at Mysore Padesh. The first captive-born confirmed golden tigers occurred in 1987. However, almost a decade earlier, in 1979, brown cubs were born to a white tigress and this was reported in the Times of India (New Delhi) of October 10th 1979. These were probably the very first captive golden tabby tigers, but were overlooked. It has been stated that a carrier of the golden gene, that was not actually golden itself, was taken from Pakistan to an American east coat zoo by Josip Marcan after its parents and littermate had died and that this is the root of the colour in western zoos.
However, modern golden tigers appear to occur alongside stripeless white tigers that trace back to white tigers Bhim and Sumita. Continued inbreeding among close relatives causes recessive genes to emerge.
The gold colour is due to a recessive mutation, probably analogous to wide-band in domestic cats. This increases the width of the pale bands on each individual hair. The normal rich orange becomes pale gold forming a red saddle pattern, the stripes are red-brown to dark brown and normally pale areas become white, giving a striking contrast between coloured and white areas. The mutation causing the colour change seems also to affect the structure of the fur so that it is softer than that of a standard orange tiger. There is none of the black colouration of an orange tiger and this lack of black striping makes their white markings unusually prominent, especially on the face. Like white tigers, golden tigers are larger than standard orange Bengal tigers. They tend to have problems with their pelvic girdles and lumbar vertebrae.
As with the white tiger, the golden tiger is usually considered a form of Bengal tiger, although most have Amur (Siberian) blood as many breeders did not keep tiger bloodlines pure. Sherikon, a female at Tigerhomes (USA) is described as a golden Siberian tiger, though her colour would have come from a Bengal ancestor. Like white tigers, golden tigers must be inbred to preserve the colour. A golden tiger is mated to a standard orange tiger, resulting in standard orange offspring that are heterozygous for the golden colour. When one of the offspring is bred back to the golden parent, some of their offspring will be golden. The genealogies suggest that the gene came from a part-Amur-part-Bengal white tiger called Tony and may have originated in the Amur tiger. Inbreeding brother and sister Bhim and Sumita resulted in both golden tigers and in stripeless white tigers which are not seen in other bloodlines. Stripeless white tigers and golden tigers occur together as both types have the "wide band" gene, however the stripeless white tigers also have the chinchilla gene that produces the white background colour (not all golden tigers descend from Bhim and Sumita, but this seems to be the most prolific bloodlin).
The first confirmed captive-bred golden tiger (outside of Asia) was probably born at the Cincinnati Zoo (where the first stripeless whites were born) and possibly to white tiger Bhim and his orange sister Kamala. Ed Maruska, the zoo director, was pictured holding a golden tiger cub. A golden tiger was acquired on loan by Glasgow zoo after someone there saw Columbus Zoo director Jack Hanna on TV with a golden tiger. Glasgow Zoo's golden tiger Butu (Bhutto) came from Longleat and was from the Columbus Zoo strain. Glasgow Zoo were of the impression that golden tigers necessarily carry white genes and are intermediate between white and orange. The colour coded chart of Bhim and Indira's descendents indicates that golden tabby tigers are orange/orange carrying white with an additional recessive gene - wide-band is the most likely candidate. Wide band would also cause ghost-striped white tigers. For a golden tabby mated to a white to have orange offspring means the golden tabby must be genetically orange. It seems that Chandi does not carry the golden gene, but Kaddu does.
While the first golden tiger cub born in captivity was in 1983 to normal orange Bengal tigers, one of the best documented births of a golden tabby occurred with a mixed colour litter of cubs on 23rd October 1998 at Dreamworld, Australia. The parents where a ghost-striped white called Mohan and a normal orange tigress called Samara. The cubs were normal orange male Sultan, white male Taj (the first white tiger born in Australia) and two were golden tabbies: male Rama and female Sita. The cubs were all hand-reared. This mixed litter strengthens the hypothesis that the same gene is involved in ghost-striped white tigers and in golden tabby tigers. Mohan would be homozygous for the recessive wide-band gene. Samara would have to be a carrier of that gene. Sultan only inherited one copy of the wide-band gene and is normal orange. The golden tabbies inherited a copy from both parents. Taj inherited white from both parents (Samara is a carrier) and wide-band from both parents.
Josip Marcan, the Croatian tiger trainer with the Clyde Beatty Cole Bros Circus, personally owns the performing tigers and was previously with the Hawthorn Circus. He had previously worked as a traioner for Cuneo. He has about 60 tigers, some leased to a safari park in Vienna, and appears to be the main source of golden tigers. Tigers bred by him have gone to MarineWorld/Africa USA in Vallejo, California, which in turn has provided tigers and trainers to Australia's DreamWorld, in the Gold Coast. Robert Baudy sent a golden tiger named Genesis, who had a white sibling, to the Out Of Africa park in Arizona. Genesis was born with deformed knee caps, which were surgically corrected with moderate success. "Sara the tiger whisperer", a trainer with the Ringling Bros, has several golden tigers in her troop. There are apparently golden tigers at the Valley Of The Kings park in Wisconsin and at Jungle Larry's Safari, in Naples Florida.
There are around 30 golden tigers in captivity including those at the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros Circus (USA) and at Dreamworld (Australia) and - oddly considering their rarity - in big cat rescue centres (golden tiger Boris was previously the pet of boxer Mike Tyson). When Glasgow Zoo closed, their golden tiger went to a Spanish zoo where it produced several litters with a normal orange tiger. The Isle of Wight Zoo at Sandown has a white tigress (Zena) and a golden tiger male called Diamond. Diamond has been castrated to prevent him breeding with his normal orange sister (the pair are inseparable). The Isle of Wight zoo's big cats are rescued from closed zoos and private collections and are not required for breeding. Longleat Safari Park, England had a male golden tiger "Butu" (sometimes spelled "Bhutto") and then an elderly golden tiger called Sonar who died in 2006. Olmense zoo in Bukenberg, Belgium also has a golden tabby tiger along with white tigers, and a white lion.
Butu, Longleat Safari Park's golden tiger that spent time at Glasgow Zoo is descended from a male white tiger imported in the late 1980s from Columbus Zoo, USA and containing Amur genes from Tony. This white male became resident male for the park's 6 to 9 females. Years later, in 1994, Longleat displayed a litter (presumed imported from Columbus Zoo, USA) obtained from an orange female heterozygous for white who had been mated to a golden tiger. This pairing produced golden tiger Butu, two orange tigers and a white tiger with no markings except for a few rings around the tail (exported to Japan). Butu was hand-reared and was one of 7 or 8 examples of the type bred by Longleat. While on loan to Glasgow Zoo, Butu was bred to homozygous orange tigress Ayesha, resulting in cubs that carry the golden gene. In 2000, Butu was to be sent to Spain to increase the gene pool. Instead, he went to Germany and was paired with a white female and with a golden female.
Although a few golden tigers have been recorded in the wild, they are a mutation, not a separate species. It is incorrect to say there are "only 30 golden tigers left in the world" - far from resurrecting an extinct animal, the mutation has been specially perpetuated as a zoo attraction. Just like white tigers or Persian cats, golden tigers are a man-made breed produced by selective breeding. Many conservationists believe that zoos should concentrate on pure bred tigers not on breeding aberrant colour forms. Their striking appearance puts them in demand for TV work and a Britney Spears pop video made them even more popular. Golden tigers are therefor likely to end up the same way as white tigers - descended from only a few individuals, highly inbred and mass-produced as attractions for zoos, circuses and private collections.