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!

But we now know the black tiger is not a case of mistaken identity. As demonstrated by the images on this site, there is physical evidence of their existence in the form of several pelts. A black cub has also been born in captivity, but this was killed by its mother.

Melanistic tiger skin:

In October 1992 the skin of a melanistic tiger was taken from a hunter and smuggler at Tis Hazari, south Delhi. The eight and a half foot pelt had black on the top of the head and back, while the sides were striped over a black ground colour. This skin was placed on show at the National Museum of Natural History, New Delhi, in February 1993. Though the source remains unknown it provided the first physical proof of melanistic tigers. They could no longer be denied. Tiger Territory has been unable to obtain a photograph of this pelt.

Similipal Tiger Reserve:

(Note: Similipal is often seen miss-spelt as Simplipal. Many areas of India are incorrectly spelled and the incorrect terms are propagated by the most amazing places. The official Web site of Project Tiger, run by the Indian Government, actually has this area spelled wrongly. Thanks to Tiger Territory attempts are now being made to rectify the situation)!

The skins shown on this page came from Orissa's Similipal Tiger Reserve in India, an area which is becoming well-known for the melanistic tigers within the region. Between 1975 and 1976 sightings were particularly frequent and along with these a single dark specimen was killed.

On July 21st 1993, a young boy shot a melanistic tigress with a bow and arrow, near the village of Podagad, (this act was one of self-defence). Upon first examination, the ground colour appeared to be black. The lower and abdominal stripes were described as white, and those on the back as brownish-yellow. As will be seen, this description was not quite accurate. Significantly, the tigress was both photographed and filmed. It is pictured here.

New details emerge:

With information gleaned from the above pelts a little more information has come to light about the black tiger:

    • They are smaller in size than their orange cousins and have even been termed "diminutive"; this also makes them more agile. (White tigers are the exact opposite and grow larger than orange specimens).
    • Though the ground colour may appear to be black, it is not. The reason for the black appearance is the dark stripes are extraordinarily wide, covering much of the usual orange base colouration. This effect is more correctly termed pseudo-melanism and it is caused when the normal markings are so large that they merge to cover larger areas. In true melanism the pelage markings are as normal, but obscured by a particularly dark background. Examples of this are the black 'panthers' and servals on page 1 of this article. There are unconfirmed reports of plain black tigers; this would be true melanism. Pseudo-melanism is also referred to as abundism. Simply put, this describes an animal with more generous markings than normal, a situation which is much less common than true melanism.  Examples are the black tigers shown here and king cheetahs. It has also been observed in leopards and jaguars.
    Increasing numbers:

    It appears that the incidence of dark and melanistic tigers is on the increase, though no one can be certain of this. Sighting even the standard orange tiger in the wild is a rare event, the chances of seeing an aberration in colour are virtually minute. An increase in the number of melanistic tigers holds great implications for the future conservation of the species though there could be several reasons for the growing number of reports:

      • Increased threats from man may mean the tiger is becoming even more nocturnal and shy. Or perhaps the tiger's trait of nocturnal hunting has meant nature is gradually providing an adaptation to assist in camouflage. This all seems very unlikely as it fails to explain why most of the black tiger reports come from the area of Simplipal. There are very few from other areas of India.
      • It is more likely that the cause is inbreeding. The 1995 census recorded Simplipal as having a tiger population of only 97 cats, somewhat below the levels required to prevent breeding depression. The longterm results of Inbreeding are lower fertility and higher cub mortality rates. Melanistic tigers may be a strong indicator of a deepening threat to the orange Bengal population.

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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