In news– Recently, scientists solved the mystery of black tigers in Similipal tiger reserve, Odisha.
Key findings of the study-
- The researchers have identified a single mutation in a gene that causes their distinctive stripes to broaden and spread into their tawny pelt, occasionally appearing entirely dark.
- A team led by ecologist from the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bangalore, have discovered that the coat colouration and patterning that make the wild cats appear dark is due to a single mutation in the Transmembrane Aminopeptidase Q (Taqpep) gene.
- Different mutations in this gene are known to cause similar changes in coat colour in several other species of cats, including cheetahs.
- The abnormally dark or black coat in such tigers is termed pseudo melanistic or false coloured.
- Photos captured from Similipal in 2018 showed eight unique individuals, three of which were ‘pseudo melanistic’ tigers, characterised by wide, merged stripes.
- Pseudo-melanistic tigers have thick stripes so close together that the tawny background is barely visible between stripes.
- The black tigers are mutants and are Bengal tigers with a single base mutation.
- This is the first and only study to investigate the genetic basis for this phenotype (look).
- The researchers combined genetic analyses of other tiger populations from India to show that the Similipal black tigers may have arisen from a very small founding population of tigers and are inbred, providing an answer to the question that had perplexed so many.
- It noted that tigers in the Similipal Tiger Reserve are an isolated population in eastern India, and gene flow between them and other tiger populations is very restricted.
- This has important implications for tiger conservation as such isolated and inbred populations are prone to extinction over even short periods of time.
- The only other black tigers outside of Similipal in India exist at the Nandankanan Zoological Park in Bhubaneswar, Ranchi Zoo and Chennai’s Arignar Anna Zoological Park, where they were born in captivity.
- Genetic tracing proved that these captive-born tigers shared a common ancestry with Similipal tigers.
Similipal tiger reserve-
- Similipal, which derives its name from ‘Simul’ (Silk Cotton) tree, is a national park and a Tiger Reserve.
- It is a compact block of elevated plateau located in the central portion of the Mayurbhanj district of Odisha.
- The Tiger Reserve originated as a hunting ground for the surrounding royalty.
- It was formally designated a tiger reserve under Project Tiger in May 1973.
- The Government of Odisha declared Similipal as a wildlife sanctuary in 1979 with an area of 2750 sq. km.
- Later in 1980, Government of Odisha proposed 303 sq. km of the sanctuary as National Park.
- It has some beautiful waterfalls like Joranda and Barehipani.
- It has been conferred with legal status as per provisions of Section 38V of Wildlife (Conservation) Act, 1972.
- The Government of India declared it as a biosphere reserve in 1994.
- UNESCO added this National Park to its list of Biosphere Reserves in May 2009.
- This tiger reserve also comes under Mayurbhanj Elephant Reserve that includes the adjacent Hadgarh and Kuldiha Wildlife Sanctuaries.
- Similipal comes under the Deccan Peninsula Biogeographic Zone, Chhotanagpur Province and Mahanadian Region.
Prominent tribes are Kolha, Santhala, Bhumija, Bhatudi, Gondas, Khadia, Mankadia and Sahara.