Black Tiger

Melanistic big CAT of the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia.

Variant name: Bear tiger.

Physical description: The normal tiger stripes are visible over a darkened ground color.

Distribution: Kerala, Orissa, Assam, and Ma-nipur States, and Mizoram Union Territory, India; Chittagong Division, Bangladesh; Bhamo District, Myanmar.

Significant sightings: In 1772, a Black tiger was killed in Kerala State, India. A portrait of it was painted by noted British artist John Forbes.

In March 1846, a Black tiger that had killed a local villager was shot by a poisoned arrow in the Chittagong Hill District, Bangladesh. The stripes showed distinctly against a lighter black ground.

On September 11, 1895, S. Capper and C. J. Maltby spotted a Black tiger through a telescope in the Cardamom Hills, Kerala State, India.

A Black tiger with no evidence of striping was shot in 1915 near Dibrugarh, Assam State, India.

In the early 1970s, a dark tiger cub was born to normal parents in the Oklahoma City Zoo. It had a normal ground color, but it also had smoky black pigmentation on its shoulders, pelvis, and legs. Had it not been killed by its mother shortly after its birth, it might have turned completely melanistic.

Beginning in 1975 and 1976, a number of sightings of Black tigers occurred in Similipal Tiger Reserve, near Baripada, Orissa State, eastern India. On July 21, 1993, a boy killed in self-defense a young, melanistic tigress in the village of Podagad west of the reserve. The tiger's black ventral stripes had expanded and coalesced over the tawny ground color, indicating a pseudo-melanistic morph.

Present status: Many reports of all-black Tigers (Panthera tigris) exist, but no specimen or skin showing true melanism has ever been submitted for formal description. Melanism usually occurs in tropical species such as the leopard and jaguar, so a black tropical tiger morph would not be considered genetically unusual. Possible explanations:

(1) Misidentified black Leopard (Panthera pardus), such as the 12-foot black animal captured alive in September 1934 near Di-brugarh, Assam. However, most Black tiger observations have been in close quarters or when the animal was dead.

(2) Tigers seen in shadow or covered in charcoal, ash, or blood. However, the dark stripes have been reported in most cases.

(3) A genuine but rare melanistic tiger morph. Sources: C. J. Buckland, "A Black Tiger,"

Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 4 (1889): 149; T. A. Hauxwell, "Possible Occur r ence of a Black Tiger," Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 22, no. 4 (1913): 88-89; Karl Shuker, Mystery Cats ofthe World (London: Robert Hale, 1989), pp. 101-107; Karl Shuker, "Melanism, Mystery Cats, and the Movies," Strange Magazine, no. 19 (Spring 1998): 23, 54-55; Karl Shuker, "Black Is Black . . . Isn't It ?" Fortean Times, no. 109 (April 1998): 44; Lala A. K Singh, Born Black: The Melanistic Tiger in India (New Delhi: World Wide Fund for Nature-India, 1999).

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