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Black tiger (animal)

Black tiger (animal)

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A black tiger is a rare colour variant of the tiger
The tiger is the largest cat species, reaching a total body length of up to and weighing up to . Their most recognizable feature is a pattern of dark vertical stripes on reddish-orange fur with lighter underparts...

 and is not a distinct species
In biology, a species is one of the basic units of biological classification and a taxonomic rank. A species is often defined as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. While in many cases this definition is adequate, more precise or differing measures are...

 or geographic subspecies
Subspecies in biological classification, is either a taxonomic rank subordinate to species, ora taxonomic unit in that rank . A subspecies cannot be recognized in isolation: a species will either be recognized as having no subspecies at all or two or more, never just one...

. There are reports and one painting (now lost) of pure black non-striped tigers (true melanistic tigers). Most black mammals are due to the non-agouti mutation. Agouti
Agouti signalling peptide
Agouti signalling peptide, a product of the Agouti gene, is a peptide consisting of 131 amino acids. Its discovery was published in 1994 in the scientific journal Nature where its functional properties were described...

 refers to the ticking of each individual hair. In certain light, the pattern still shows up because the background color is less dense than the colour of the markings.

So-called black tigers are due to pseudo-melanism
Melanism is an undue development of dark-colored pigment in the skin or its appendages, and the opposite of albinism. It is also the medical term for black jaundice.The word is deduced from the , meaning black pigment....

. Pseudo-melanistic tigers have thick stripes so close together that the tawny background is barely visible between stripes. Such tigers are said to be getting more common due to inbreeding
Inbreeding is the reproduction from the mating of two genetically related parents. Inbreeding results in increased homozygosity, which can increase the chances of offspring being affected by recessive or deleterious traits. This generally leads to a decreased fitness of a population, which is...

. They are also said to be smaller than normal tigers, perhaps also due to inbreeding or because large black leopards are misidentified as black tigers. A discussion of black tigers was presented by British cryptozoologist Dr Karl Shuker
Karl Shuker
Karl P. N. Shuker is a British zoologist, cryptozoologist, and author living in the West Midlands, England. He works as a full-time freelance zoological consultant, media consultant, and noted author specializing in cryptozoology.- Career :...

 in his book Mystery Cats of the World.

Sightings (1772-1895)

In 1773, while in the service of British East India Company
British East India Company
The East India Company was an early English joint-stock company that was formed initially for pursuing trade with the East Indies, but that ended up trading mainly with the Indian subcontinent and China...

 in Kerala
or Keralam is an Indian state located on the Malabar coast of south-west India. It was created on 1 November 1956 by the States Reorganisation Act by combining various Malayalam speaking regions....

, southwest India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, artist James Forbes
James Forbes (artist)
James Forbes was a British artist and writer. Born in London to a Scots family, Forbes travelled to India in 1765 as a writer for the British East India Company and was resident there until 1784. He was a prolific writer and artist and filled 52,000 manuscript pages with notes and sketches...

 painted a watercolor of a black tiger shot a few months earlier by the soldiers The painting has been lost, but Forbes' description of it survives:
I shave also the opportunity of adding the portrait of an extraordinary Tyger [sic], shot a few months ago by the Nairs in this neighborhood, and presented to the chief as a great curiosity. It was entirely black yet striped in the manner of the Royal-Tyger, with shades of a still darker hue, like the richest black, glossed with purple. My pencil is very deficient in displaying these mingled tints; nor do I know how to describe them better than by the difference you would observe in a black cloth variegated with shades of a rich velvet
Velvet is a type of woven tufted fabric in which the cut threads are evenly distributed,with a short dense pile, giving it a distinctive feel.The word 'velvety' is used as an adjective to mean -"smooth like velvet".-Composition:...

This corresponds to ghost markings similar to those on black panthers.They are highly intelligent like his cousin the orange tiger.

A black tiger from the East Indies was exhibited in the Tower of London
Tower of London
Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, more commonly known as the Tower of London, is a historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames in central London, England. It lies within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, separated from the eastern edge of the City of London by the open space...

A menagerie is/was a form of keeping common and exotic animals in captivity that preceded the modern zoological garden. The term was first used in seventeenth century France in reference to the management of household or domestic stock. Later, it came to be used primarily in reference to...

, founded in the 13th Century by Henry III
Henry III of England
Henry III was the son and successor of John as King of England, reigning for 56 years from 1216 until his death. His contemporaries knew him as Henry of Winchester. He was the first child king in England since the reign of Æthelred the Unready...

 and operational until 1831 (it was relocated to its present site in Regent's Park
Regent's Park
Regent's Park is one of the Royal Parks of London. It is in the north-western part of central London, partly in the City of Westminster and partly in the London Borough of Camden...

, now London Zoo
London Zoo
London Zoo is the world's oldest scientific zoo. It was opened in London on 27 April 1828, and was originally intended to be used as a collection for scientific study. It was eventually opened to the public in 1847...

); however, it was more likely to have been a black leopard. The 1786 book, "Sophie in London" records Sophie's impressions of this cat: "The all-black tiger, which Mr. Hastings brought with him from the East Indies is most handsome, but his tigery glance is horrible." The Observer newspaper on 27 January 1844 records a black tiger (again, probably a black leopard) intended as a present for Napoleon
Napoleon I of France
Napoleon Bonaparte was a French military and political leader during the latter stages of the French Revolution.As Napoleon I, he was Emperor of the French from 1804 to 1815...

 from the King of Java
Java is an island of Indonesia. With a population of 135 million , it is the world's most populous island, and one of the most densely populated regions in the world. It is home to 60% of Indonesia's population. The Indonesian capital city, Jakarta, is in west Java...

. This tiger was displayed at Kendrick's menagerie in Piccadilly
Piccadilly is a major street in central London, running from Hyde Park Corner in the west to Piccadilly Circus in the east. It is completely within the city of Westminster. The street is part of the A4 road, London's second most important western artery. St...

, London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

. A black tiger pelt displayed at the Los Angeles Country Museum, USA was probably a black leopard-""

In March 1846, the naturalist C.T. Buckland reported a black tiger in the Chittagong
Chittagong ) is a city in southeastern Bangladesh and the capital of an eponymous district and division. Built on the banks of the Karnaphuli River, the city is home to Bangladesh's busiest seaport and has a population of over 4.5 million, making it the second largest city in the country.A trading...

 Hills (now in Bangladesh
Bangladesh , officially the People's Republic of Bangladesh is a sovereign state located in South Asia. It is bordered by India on all sides except for a small border with Burma to the far southeast and by the Bay of Bengal to the south...

) where it was raiding cattle. It was shot with a poisoned arrow and its body was later discovered but it was too decomposed to skin. Buckland's account for The Field, which was printed in the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society
Bombay Natural History Society
The Bombay Natural History Society, founded on 15 September 1883, is one of the largest non-governmental organizations in India engaged in conservation and biodiversity research. It supports many research efforts through grants, and publishes the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. Many...

 (JBNHS) during 1889, documented the case of a black tiger killed at Chittagong. The report is even more dubious because over 40 years had elapsed between the actual event and the report; all of the party members that could have corroborated his story had died.

In September 1895, a very clear sighting of a supposed black tiger was made by Colonel S. Capper using a hunter's telescope
Spotting scope
A spotting scope is a small portable telescope with added optics to present an erect image, optimized for the observation of terrestrial objects...

; the tiger disappeared into the jungle. The presence of black leopards in the area and the difficulty of accurately judging size makes this a dubious report though. The various accounts of black tiger sightings were detailed in "The Wildlife of India" by E.P. Gee
Edward Pritchard Gee
Edward Pritchard Gee was a Cambridge educated, Anglo-Indian tea-planter and an amateur naturalist in Assam, India. He is credited with the 1953 discovery of Gee's Golden Langur...


Sightings (1913-1972)

In 1913, A.T. Hauxwell fired at an apparent black tiger near Bhamo
Bhamo is a city of Kachin State in northernmost part of Myanmar, located 186 km south from the capital city of Myitkyina. It is on the Ayeyarwady River. It lies within 65 km of the border with Yunnan Province, China. The population consists of Chinese and Shan, with Kachin peoples in...

, in Burma, but it escaped. He reported this in the JBNHS.

A jet-black tiger with no visible markings was apparently shot in Assam
Assam , also, rarely, Assam Valley and formerly the Assam Province , is a northeastern state of India and is one of the most culturally and geographically distinct regions of the country...

, India in 1915; unlike most melanistic big cats, which have shadowy patterns visible from certain angles, this jet black individual had no appearance of striping. A dead black tiger was reported south of Assam in 1928, but the skin was too decayed to be saved. Another one from around the same date was reported in the Central Provinces
Central Provinces
The Central Provinces was a province of British India. It comprised British conquests from the Mughals and Marathas in central India, and covered parts of present-day Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra states. Its capital was Nagpur....

 and had dark brown coats with black markings T. Banjie's report "Tigers in China " (1983) alleged several sightings of black tigers in the Dongning area of China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

. Sightings occurred in 1951, 1953 and 1957 and a black tiger was allegedly captured in 1972. Black tigers are also part of Vietnamese
Vietnamese people
The Vietnamese people are an ethnic group originating from present-day northern Vietnam and southern China. They are the majority ethnic group of Vietnam, comprising 86% of the population as of the 1999 census, and are officially known as Kinh to distinguish them from other ethnic groups in Vietnam...

 legend. The depletion of tigers in those regions may have eliminated the carriers of genes for melanism and pseudo-melanism. A "black tiger" shot in Manipur state in the early 1930s was actually an Asian black bear, but was called a black tiger to take advantage of the bounty offered for such creatures. In 1936, a black tiger captured in Dibrugarh
Dibrugarh is the headquarters of Dibrugarh district, Assam, India, and is the second largest city in Assam after Guwahati. It is situated on the banks of the Brahmaputra River, about north-east of Guwahati. It is the gateway to the three tea-producing districts of Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, and Sibsagar...

 turned out to be a black leopard, but a skin with chocolate brown background and black stripes was reported in the same year in the Central Provinces.

A.A. Dunbar Brander of the British Indian Forest Service witnessed a tiger getting covered in blood from a fresh kill and as the blood dried it appeared black. He said, "Had I not witnessed this transformation and come on the tigers without being aware of what had happened, I would have been firmly convinced that I had seen a black tiger."

According to S.H. Prater
Stanley Henry Prater
Stanley Henry Prater was a British naturalist in India best known as a long-time affiliate of the Bombay Natural History Society and the Prince of Wales Museum of Western India, Bombay, as curator of both institutions for the better part of three decades, and as author of the enduring classic The...

 writing for the JBNHS in January 1937, The London Evening News, 10 October 1936, published a Reuters
Reuters is a news agency headquartered in New York City. Until 2008 the Reuters news agency formed part of a British independent company, Reuters Group plc, which was also a provider of financial market data...

 account of a black "Royal Bengal" tiger captured in a forest in Dibrugarh, Assam. The manager of a local tea estate captured the tiger in a baited iron cage. The Conservator of Forests, Assam was unable to get a clear view of the black tiger, but advised the Society that it was trapped on 4 September 1936 in the Nepaphoo Tea Estate owned by Bagchi Brothers of Dibrugarh and it was sold to wild animal dealers Messrs PKB Akuli of Barrackpore Road, Calcutta. Dr. Baini Prashad, Director of the Zoological Survey of India
Zoological Survey of India
The Zoological Survey of India is a premier Indian organisation in zoological research and studies. It was established on 1 July 1916 to promote the survey, exploration and research of the fauna in the region...

, Indian Museum
Indian Museum
The Indian Museum is the largest museum in India and has rare collections of antiques, armour and ornaments, fossils, skeletons, mummies, and Mughal paintings...

, Calcutta made further inquiries and learned that the creature was a black leopard and not, as reported by Reuters, a tiger. Sankahal noted that the "Dibrugarh Black Tiger" reported to be 12 feet long and 3.5 feet high turned out to be a 7 ft black leopard. R. I. Pocock
Reginald Innes Pocock
Reginald Innes Pocock F.R.S. was a British zoologist.Pocock was born in Clifton, Bristol, the fourth son of Rev. Nicholas Pocock and Edith Prichard. He began showing interest in natural history at St. Edward's School, Oxford. He received tutoring in zoology from Sir Edward Poulton, and was allowed...

 wrote "A ridiculous measurement (12 ft) ever for a tiger: the animal would require another pair of legs in the middle of its body, like a billiard table, to support its weight."

Pocock's article in the JBNHS recorded 3 reports of black tigers: the 1846 Chittagong specimen reported by Mr. C. F. Buckland in the Field and in the JBNHS; the 1913 Bhamo, Burma specimen reported by Mr. A. T. Hauxwell and the Lushai Hills, Assam specimen. Col. S. Capper, while shooting in the Cardamom Hills
Cardamom Hills
Not to be confused with Cardamom Mountains in Cambodia. For other uses, see Cardamom The Cardamom Hills are part of the southern Western Ghats located in southeast Kerala and southwest Tamil Nadu in South India. Their name comes from the cardamom spice grown in much of the hill's cool elevation,...

, S. India, saw through a telescope a black animal lying on a rock and identified it as a tiger. Black leopards were present in the area and the identification is therefore dubious. Brigadier General
Brigadier General
Brigadier general is a senior rank in the armed forces. It is the lowest ranking general officer in some countries, usually sitting between the ranks of colonel and major general. When appointed to a field command, a brigadier general is typically in command of a brigade consisting of around 4,000...

 Burton wrote in his book "Sport and Wildlife in the Deccan" that light and shade in the jungle can give erroneous impressions of an animal's color, thus casting doubt on Hauxwell's black tiger also.

Captain Guy Dollman
Guy Dollman
Captain John Guy Dollman BA, FLS , known as Guy Dollman, was a British zoologist and taxonomist. Dollman's Tree Mouse Dollman's Vlei Rat are named after him.-Life and work:...

 of the British Natural History Museum
Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum is one of three large museums on Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London, England . Its main frontage is on Cromwell Road...

 wrote in The Times, 14 October 1936 of 2 cases of melanism in the tiger. The first was a young individual shot in the Central Provinces some years previously. It was dark brown all over with stripes appearing black on the dark ground color. The second was an animal shot in 1915 by natives east of Dibrugarh, Assam. Dollman wrote, "There can be no doubt that the animals I have referred to above were tigers and not leopards". In response to Dollman, W.H. Carter wrote in the Times of 16 October 1936
"I was much interested in Captain Guy Dollman's letter on black tigers in The Times of October 14, having been resident in the neighborhood mentioned by him for years. In one of the official district Gazetteers of Bengal (Khulna or Backerganj) there is mentioned a local variety of tiger which had lost its stripes as camouflage in the open sandy tracts of Sundarbans
The Sundarbans [Sundarban Tour Booking-9051115228] is the largest single block of tidal halophytic mangrove forest in the world.The name Sundarban can be literally translated as "beautiful jungle" or "beautiful forest" in the Bengali language...

. The uniform color scheme adopted was however, brown and not black, but perhaps his cousin in the hinterland found black more suited to his background. The author of the Gazetteer in question is, I believe, dead."

Sightings (1970-current)

In the early 1970s, Oklahoma City Zoo's
Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden
The widely acclaimed Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden is a zoo and botanical garden located in the Adventure District in northeast Oklahoma City, Oklahoma....

 pair of tigers had three cubs that were abnormally colored. One had the normal background color but all four limbs were abnormally dark. The second had dark feet, though these gradually grew lighter as it matured and became the normal color when it reached adulthood. The third had the normal background color, but considerable darkening over the shoulders, down both front legs, over the pelvis, and encompassing both back legs. The darkening was more-or-less the same color as the stripes. The striped pattern was only visible over the darkened areas. Two of the three cubs were killed by the mother, leaving only the dark-footed cub. The black cub was preserved in formalin.

In 1999 L. A. K. Singh gave a very detailed account of the Melanistic Tiger in India. During the winter of 1975/6, two adult black tigers were seen in bright sunlight on the road leading to Matughar meadow; the sighting was made by Orissa
Orissa , officially Odisha since Nov 2011, is a state of India, located on the east coast of India, by the Bay of Bengal. It is the modern name of the ancient nation of Kalinga, which was invaded by the Maurya Emperor Ashoka in 261 BC. The modern state of Orissa was established on 1 April...

 Forest Service officials accompanied by two foreign tourists. In 1991, a black cub was seen with two adults and a normal color cub at Devasthali, though this sighting was dismissed as an optical illusion. During 1996, adult black tigers were observed several times. A yellow-striped black tiger was seen near Baladaghar . A black tiger was seen near Bachhurichara, between Patabil and Devasthali. Some time later, a yellow-striped black tiger was seen between Patabil and Devasthali.

In 1992, the pelt of another apparently true melanistic tiger was confiscated from a hunter and smuggler at Tis Hazari, south Delhi. The top of the head and back were black, while the sides showed shadow striping on a black background color. The pelt was exhibited at the National Museum of Natural History, New Delhi, in February 1993. In 1993, a young boy shot a melanistic female tiger in self defence with a bow and arrow, near the village of Podagad, west of Similipal Tiger Reserve. Initial examination suggested the background color was black with white abdominal stripes and tawny dorsal
Dorsum (biology)
In anatomy, the dorsum is the upper side of animals that typically run, fly, or swim in a horizontal position, and the back side of animals that walk upright. In vertebrates the dorsum contains the backbone. The term dorsal refers to anatomical structures that are either situated toward or grow...

stripes. According to Valmik Thapar in Tiger: The Ultimate Guide, the only proof of black tigers is a skin with a black head and back. K. Ullas Karanth wrote in The Way Of The Tiger that a partially black tiger was recently killed by poachers in Assam.

There are reports that one of the three white tigers born in Vandalur zoo in June 2010 seems to have changed its colours — most of its body and legs are now black.

Further reading

  • T. Banjie, Tigers in China (1983).
  • C. F. Buckland, Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society (JBNHS) (vol. iv, p. 149) 1889.
  • C. F. Buckland, The Field (vol lxxiii, p. 42; p. 789).
  • Brigadier-General Burton, Sport and Wildlife in the Deccan.
  • Col. S. Capper Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society (JBNHS), vol xxiii, p. 343.
  • W. H. Carter, "Letters", The Times (16 October 1936).
  • Capt. Guy Dollman, The Times (14 October 1936).
  • E. P. Gee, The Wildlife of India
  • A. T. Hauxwell, Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society (JBNHS), vol. xxxii, p. 788).
  • Pocock, Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society (JBNHS), Vol xxxiii, p. 505.
  • S. H.Prater, Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society (JBNHS), January, 1937.
  • Reuters, The London Evening News, 10 October 1936.
  • Valmik Thapar, Tiger: The Ultimate Guide.
  • K. Ullas Karanth, The Way Of The Tiger.
  • L. A. K. Singh (1999): Born Black: The Melanistic Tiger in India. WWF-India, 66 pages.
  • Rare (Black) Indian tigers spotted at Similipal National Park, The Hindu Newspaper, June 4, 2007

External links