BHUBANESWAR:Come July 28, and the Nandankanan Zoological Park will show off something unique to the world. Two young melanistic tigers, born and raised at the zoo, will be brought to the public exhibit arena for the first time.
The Zoo authorities, which have been rearing the cubs away from the public eye and reach, have decided to bring them to the public display area when the cats turn one year old on July 28.
Melanistic tigers are a rare occurrence and having them in a zoo is even more uncommon. Going by Nandankanan authorities, it is for the first time in India — also probably in the world — that a zoo will have melanistic tigers. The two are part of a litter given birth by white tigress Sneha, who was paired with Manish, a normal-coloured Royal Bengal Tiger (RBT). The successful breeding saw Sneha giving birth to three male and one female cubs. Of the four, two were found to have darker stripes, the signs of a melanistic tiger. As the cubs grew up, the melanins kicked in, giving them the prominent dark stripes caused by the pigments.
Director of Nandankanan Zoo Dr Sudarshan Panda said, “While melanistic tigers occur very rarely, getting them in a zoo is even more difficult. As far as my knowledge goes, no zoo in India has melanistic tigers as yet. It could be said for zoos across the world too.”
Interestingly, the Similipal Tiger Reserve also boasts of melanistic tigers. During two tiger enumeration exercises in the last five years, the camera traps had captured the pictures of these large cats bearing prominent dark-stripes. The first ever picture had shown existence of none but later in 2014, three were found in the footage.
“Since Sneha and Manish’s pairing was part of the planned breeding process, we followed a strict protocol of keeping the mother and cubs distanced from the public and under 24x7 surveillance,” said Panda.
In 1980, Nandankanan Zoo had shot to news after white tigers were born to normal-coloured parents. White tigers are neither a sub-species nor an albino form of the tiger and experts call them genetic freaks, born with impairments. On the other hand, melanistic tigers come from a rare genetic pool.
Actually, all the white tigers of the world are believed to owe their ancestry to one such tiger found in Rewa in 1950s.
What is it?
■ Born after breeding a white tiger and normal-coloured Bengal Tiger
■ Melanistic tigers have darker stripes, due to presence of melanin pigment
■ A rare occurrence; different from black tigers