Mysteries Unveiled: Discovery of Rare Black Tigers in India Leaves Experts Astonished

In the heart of Eastern India’s wildlife sanctuary lies a mesmerizing spectacle: tigers adorned with various coat variations.

Among these majestic creatures are some with strikingly thick black stripes. Recent research by a collaborative team of geneticists from India and the United States has unveiled the genetic mutation responsible for these dark-coated wonders.

Watch the video at the end.

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These remarkable tigers exhibit a phenomenon known as pseudo-melanism, where their stripes appear wide and merged, often giving them an appearance of being predominantly black.

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This unique trait distinguishes them from leucistic tigers, white with black stripes due to a different genetic anomaly. Approximately one-third of tigers inhabiting the Similipal Tiger Reserve display pseudo-melanism.

Led by Dr. Vinay Sagar from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, the research team conducted a genetic survey of 85 tigers across four subspecies to unravel the molecular basis behind this distinct feature.

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Their findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shed light on the genetic mutation driving pseudo-melanism in these tigers.

The study identified a mutation in the Taqpep gene in pseudo-melanic tigers, affecting both gene copies. This alteration disrupts the pattern-forming process, resulting in widened and occasionally fused stripes.

According to co-author Dr. Greg Barsh, a geneticist from Stanford University and the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, this mutation leads to an intensified black hue in these tigers, akin to how recessive genes produce specific markings in other species like tabby cats and cheetahs.

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Despite being one of nature’s most iconic symbols, tigers face numerous threats, with three out of eight subspecies already declared extinct.

The surviving subspecies are critically endangered, and those in captivity struggle with maintaining genetic diversity.

Dr. Uma Ramakrishnan, a Tata Institute of Fundamental Research scientist, emphasizes the importance of conservation efforts beyond mere population numbers, highlighting the challenges posed by small and isolated tiger populations susceptible to genetic drift and inbreeding.

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The prevalence of the recessive Taqpep phenotype among Similipal tigers underscores the potential impact of inbreeding within the population.

However, not all color mutations are detrimental. The research team suggests that pseudo-melanism may confer an evolutionary advantage, similar to melanistic leopards, which thrive in dark, dense forests. This trait could aid the tigers in blending into their jungle habitat, enhancing their chances of survival.

The discovery of the genetic basis behind the tigers’ unique coat patterns serves as a poignant reminder that animal characteristics extend far beyond surface appearances, offering valuable insights into the complexities of developmental biology and evolutionary adaptation.

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