Like the proverbial silver lining in the dark clouds of the current times, from the flood-hit Kaziranga National Park appeared a tigress with golden fur. The picture of Kazi 106-F, as the female tiger is known, went viral after an Indian Forest Service officer shared it on social media. Soon after, the national park authorities put out a note stating that there were four tigers with such colour similarities in the tiger reserve.
If Assam found Kazi’s golden velvety coat from camera-trap captures in 2014, Odisha had discovered black (melanistic) tigers in Similipal way back in 2008. However, Kaziranga’s research officer Rabindra Sharma was quick to put the ‘social media star’ hype around Kazi 106-F in perspective by pointing out that excessive inbreeding could be the biological reason behind colour aberration, which he said is not exactly a matter of celebration.
Tigers resort to inbreeding when their population is almost islanded without connectivity to other landscapes, which is mainly caused by habitat loss and destruction of corridors. Be it black or golden, there is not much to be joyous about such a trend. In 2013, a joint study by the National Centre for Biological Sciences and Cardiff University had flagged the concern that Indian tigers no longer possess 93% of their genetic variation.
The golden tiger news comes at a critical time. The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change is jubilant that the 2018 tiger estimates entered the Guinness World Records for being the world’s biggest wildlife survey. At the same time, there is growing concern about key tiger corridors facing a threat from coal mines, the auction process of which was initiated last month.
Some states immediately voiced concern and upon Maharashtra’s request, the Union Coal Ministry withdrew the auction of the Bander coal block that was close to the Tadoba-Andhari tiger reserve. The healthy rise in head count should be no reason for complacency over conservation of big cats in India, which remains the world’s biggest home for tigers, as there is immense pressure from development and infrastructure. Giving tigers inviolate and expanding habitats apart, the Centre must focus on their genetic security too.