Posted by: Loren Coleman on October 29th, 2008
One of the most disputed felid cryptids is the “Black Tiger” of the Similipal Tiger Reserve.
The State Forest Department and Dehra Dun-based Wildlife Institute of India (WII) may have a huge difference of opinion over exact number of tigers in Bhubaneswar State, but the agencies are unanimous over presence of melanistic tigers in Similipal.
Even as the State and WII continue to be at loggerheads not only over number of big cats but enumeration methodology too, there is no such difference as far as melanistic (some call it black) tigers are concerned.
‘Wildlife Census in Orissa,’ a latest publication by the Forest and Environment Department, has confirmed the fact that tigers with colour aberration, mostly towards black, are found in Similipal Tiger Reserve (STR).
It comes to light through WII’s camera trap technology, a methodology which left the State Government ruffled when the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and Dehra Dun-based institute released results of tiger census earlier this year. Interestingly, the publication puts the number of tigers at 132 in habitats across the State. The figure for Similipal is 69 (excluding cubs) as per the pugmark tracking method.
This almost is a climb-down from the higher figure of 94 that the Department had been dishing out for past several years, after it met with serious posers from camera trap technique used by WII-NTCA which led to a drop in the number. The controversial WII census had put tiger number at 45 in the entire State, and 20 in Similipal.
However, there is no such controversy over presence of the melanistic tigers though. The Forest Department publication, while terming the analysis of the camera trap as unclear, says that the method needs to be tested in different habitats.
But it presents pictures of the census showing the ‘black’ coloured tigers in STR. ‘‘It substantiates the postulation made on the basis of research carried out in STR on colour aberration in tiger in the research work Born Black: The Melanistic Tiger in India,’’ the report says.
The Similipal Tiger Reserve is situated in the district of Mayurbhanj, Orissa, India. It lies between 86°5′ and 86°37′ east longitude and between 21°30′ and 22°8′ north latitude. Beginning in 1975–1976 a number of sightings of black tigers have occurred in Similipal Tiger Reserve.
Observation 1993: On 21 July 1993, around 10 a.m., a boy, in self-defense, killed a young melanistic tigress with a bow and arrows. The incident occurred in the village of Podagad in the Bhandan river valley west of Similipal Tiger Reserve. The main peculiarity in body colouration was that the dorsal stripes were tawny and the ventral stripes white on a black background [or the black stripes were wider than the orange dorsal and white ventral backgrounds, ed.]. The animal was photographed (see photos) and videotaped.