Pseudo-melanistic black tiger photographed in Odisha, India

ODISHA, INDIA, NEWS AND COMMENT: A lucky amateur photographer, Soumen Bajpayee, captured a black tiger, more particularly a tiger with thick dark stripes almost covering the tawny/orange background because of a genetic mutation described as pseudo-melanism. These tigers are said to be incredibly rare (as reported by the Daily Mail) which is why the photographer was incredibly lucky. I hope that he was able to sell his photographs for a decent amount of money. They also report that melanistic black tigers are only found in Odisha state and that the numbers have declined dramatically, especially recently according to a 2018 tiger count.

Pseudo-melanistic black tiger in Odisha state India
Pseudo-melanistic black tiger in Odisha state India. Photo credit per embossing lower left.

Most black tigers can be seen in the Similipal Tiger Reserve in Odisha. They first reported melanistic tigers in this reserve in 2007. A wildlife expert and scientist at the Wildlife Institute of India said that he believed that there were only 7-8 of these tigers left. They are said to be smaller than the standard-coloured tigers.

There is constant pressure on tiger numbers in India because of the continually growing human population, which squeezes out wildlife. I'm referring particularly to human activity which increases as the human population increases. It makes sense. Human activity is anathema to tigers in the wild.

Sarah Hartwell, an expert on cat genetics and unusual cats both wild and domestic, tells us that pseudo-melanistic tigers might be becoming more common due to inbreeding which in turn is caused by habitat reduction which in turn is caused by, as mentioned, increased human activity.

In the fact that pseudo-melanistic black tigers are smaller than the normal tigers also indicate inbreeding. Inbreeding promotes anomalous coat patterns and/or colours. This is because recessive genes are able to manifest themselves in phenotypes. Also, totally black melanistic tigers have been reported. Sometimes people misidentify a melanistic leopard which is totally black, or very dark charcoal coloured, as a tiger which may account for the assessment that melanistic tigers are smaller.

Sarah reports on some old accounts of black tigers. For example, in an ancient Chinese Encyclopaedia written circa 300 BC called Erya, there is a mention of a black tiger in a chapter headed "Explaining the beasts". It starts "The shu is a black tiger."

The book reports of a small black tiger with fur that was dark and luxuriant but "bore spots/stripes". The Tower of London menagerie which was founded in the 13th century by Henry III at one time had a black tiger from the East Indies it is said, but it is more likely that it was a black leopard.

The Daily Mail report is dated Nov. 2020.

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