Black Tigers or Melanistic Tigers


11:01 AM

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What’s in today’s article?

  • Why in News?
  • Similipal Tiger Reserve (STR)
  • What are Black Tigers or Melanistic Tigers?
  • What Makes Tigers (Pseudo) Melanistic?
  • What is Odisha’s Plan for the Melanistic Tiger Safari?
  • Why has Odisha Come up with this Plan?

Why in News?

  • The Odisha government announced plans to start a melanistic tiger safari near Similipal Tiger Reserve (STR) and is likely to be ready for visitors by October this year.
  • The safari will be the first of its kind anywhere in the world, and it will give a chance to the tourists to see “the rare and majestic” melanistic tiger species “found only in Odisha”.

Similipal Tiger Reserve (STR)

  • Similipal is a tiger reserve in the Mayurbhanj district (adjoining Jharkhand and West Bengal) in the Indian state of Odisha covering 2,750 km2 (1,060 sq mi).
  • It is part of the Mayurbhanj Elephant Reserve, which includes three protected areas - Similipal Tiger Reserve, Hadagarh Wildlife Sanctuary and Kuldiha Wildlife Sanctuary.
  • Simlipal National Park derives its name from the abundance of red silk cotton trees growing in the area.
  • The park is home to Bengal tiger, Asian elephant, gaur and chausingha, and this protected area is part of the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves since 2009.
  • The STR is Asia’s second largest biosphere (after the Gulf of Kachchh, Gujarat), and the country’s only wild habitat for melanistic royal Bengal tigers.

What are Black Tigers or Melanistic Tigers?

  • Melanism is a genetic condition in which an increased production of melanin, a substance in the skin that produces hair, eye and skin pigmentation, results in black (or nearly black) skin, feathers or hair in an animal.
  • Many royal Bengal tigers of Similipal belong to a unique lineage with higher-than-normal levels of melanin, which gives them black and yellow interspersed stripes on their coats.
  • These tigers are not entirely black, and are therefore more accurately described as being pseudo-melanistic.
  • As per the 2022 cycle of the All-India Tiger Estimation, 16 individuals were recorded at STR, out of which 10 were melanistic.
  • The state government’s ongoing tiger survey (which will be released soon), however, suggests that the number of royal Bengal tigers in STR is more than what has been mentioned in the NTCA report.

What Makes Tigers (Pseudo) Melanistic?

  • According to research of the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NBCS, Bengaluru), a single mutation in the gene Transmembrane Aminopeptidase Q (Taqpep) causes black tigers' stripes to enlarge or spread into the yellow background.
  • Genetic analyses of other tiger populations in India and computer simulations suggest that the Similipal black tigers may have arisen from a very small founding population of tigers, and are inbred.
    • The STR cats live isolated from other tigers, because of which they breed among themselves.

What is Odisha’s Plan for the Melanistic Tiger Safari?

  • The state government’s plan has received in-principle approval from the technical committee of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), the national body for the conservation of the big cat.
  • According to the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), Odisha, around 200 hectares of land along the Dhanbad-Balasore NH-18 has been identified for the proposed safari.
  • The site is about 15 km from the STR, and its landscape matches that of Similipal.
  • Initially, 3 melanistic tigers from the Nandankanan zoo (Bhubaneswar) and rescued/ orphaned tigers who are not fit for wild but fit for display, will be housed in the safari in an open enclosure.
  • An NTCA committee will visit the proposed site to carry out a feasibility study before final clearance is given to the project.
  • The state government will also have to obtain other statutory clearances, including approval from the Central Zoo Authority, a body under the Environment Ministry that has oversight over zoos in the country.

Why has Odisha Come up with this Plan?

  • The safari aims to allow wildlife conservationists, researchers, and enthusiasts to see the rare big cats from up close, and to create awareness about the need for their conservation.
    • The sighting of tigers is difficult in STR because of its vast area, and the safari has been proposed as an added attraction for visitors to Similipal.
  • This pioneering attraction will highlight the State’s commitment to preservation and showcasing its unique biodiversity.

Q.1. What is the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR)?

The UNESCO WNBR covers internationally designated protected areas, known as biosphere reserves, which are meant to demonstrate a balanced relationship between people and nature. They are created under the Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB).

Q.2. What is the Central Zoo Authority (CZA)?

The CZA is the body of the Government of India responsible for oversight of zoos. It is an affiliate member of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA).

Source: Odisha to establish a melanistic tiger safari – a first of its kind in the world | IE