Down to Earth

Bright and black

Female tigers at the Similipal reserve in Odisha are increasing­ly giving birth to black or melanistic breeds and catching rare worldwide attention |


Aphenomeno­n, found nowhere else in the world, is occurring in the Similipal Tiger Reserve (str) in Odisha. Normal tigers are giving birth to black or melanistic tigers and even normal cubs are being delivered by the black or melanistic tigresses. A census carried out by the Odisha forest department in str in 2016 found six- seven melanistic tigers out of a total of 29, including cubs that have so far been recorded through camera traps. “We are witnessing a growing trend of black tigers in str in the past few years. In a litter comprising threefour cubs, one or two are born dark,” says Ajit Kumar Satpathy, deputy field director, str.

Former honorary wildlife warden of str, Bhanumitra Acharya, says the black stripes running across their bodies are much broader and thicker than those seen in normal tigers, so much so that their tawny skin colour is barely visible. “What is even more unusual is that neither are their activities and behavioura­l traits different from the usual tigers nor do they face problems of acceptance within the tiger community,” adds Acharya. Black tigers can also be found at the Nandankana­n Zoo, Bhubaneswa­r, where they are caged and are healthy.

Since the 1970s, there have been sporadic sightings of black tigers in str. Records reveal that two adult melanistic tigers were spotted by Bitanath Nayak, then assistant field director, str, on a road near Matughar in south Similipal. In 1991, Niranjan Mohanta, a forest guard in the upper Barakhamba Range of str claimed to have sighted a family of black tigers. However, both these sightings were dismissed as a case of mistaken identity.

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