Black or Melanistic Tigers

Black Tigers - 1: Introduction To Melanism | 2: Early Evidence Of Black Tigers | 3&4: The C.T. Buckland Black Tiger Story |
5: Black Tigers Of Similipal Tiger Reserve | 6: A Colour Image!

For several weeks before we saw the dead body, the natives had reported that there was a black tiger which infested the range of hills behind the military cantonments at Chittagong. More than once, when the herdsman brought word that it had killed a cow, Captain Swatman sent an elephant and howdah for me, and we beat through the jungle in vain for it. Probably our tactics were bad, as we invariably went right up to the body of the murdered cow, and the tiger sneaked off on hearing the noise of the elephants into the extensive and impenetrable coverts.

We did not attach any importance to the native statement that the tiger was black, as we supposed that this was merely an exaggeration. So also, when a report came in through the native police that a man had been killed by a black tiger in a large village about three miles to the south of the hills behind the cantonments, we supposed that the epithet "black" was only a fanciful description of the animal. When, however, we had seen the black skin of the body of the dead tiger, we concluded that the native authorities had not been drawing on their imagination when they used the epithet "black."

I cannot venture to offer any explanation why this tiger's skin was black. It is well known that there is considerable difference of colour in the skins of ordinary tigers. Some skins have almost a light yellow ground, whilst in others the colour approaches a dark chestnut-red. Some people attribute this variety of colour to the character of the jungle in which the animals have lived, and this has a sort of probability in it; but the age of the tiger may have also something to say to it, and a beast which was of a dark red in its prime may turn to a lighter colour when it grows old.

It was my good fortune during the last forty years to see many more tigers, both wild and in captivity, than falls to the lot of most men in Bengal. I can testify that on the churs of the Ganges and Brahmapootra, when shooting during the hot winds in the end of march, through the remains of the brunt grass and charred stalks, that the animals seemed to vanish before our eyes.

Many authorities have written that the skin of a man-eating tiger is usually mangy and dull in colour. There were two man-eating tigers caught and sent to the Calcutta Zoo, whose skins were in perfect condition and of a rich colour. There was a fine tigress about five years old with a clean and well-marked skin, whose career I had to cut short, as she had taken to preying on the villagers of a place near Dacca; so that these cases were exceptions to the general rule. But I have no doubt that it is quite true that many old and mangy tigers, with decaying teeth and claws, become man-eaters. The reason is simple. A human being is the most facile prey for a tiger. One grip on the slight neck of a woman and all is over. There is no striking with pointed horns, or kicking with sharp hooves, as the tiger finds when he is killing a deer or a cow. And who shall say whether a healthy young woman is more tender and wholesome food than the flesh of a sickly old cow, half-starved in the jungle?

C.T. Buckland,

In The Field.

Black Tigers - 1: Introduction To Melanism | 2: Early Evidence Of Black Tigers | 3&4: The C.T. Buckland Black Tiger Story |
5: Black Tigers Of Similipal Tiger Reserve | 6: A Colour Image!

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