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I saw a melanistic or black tiger (black-stripes close together on its torso) at the Nandankanan Zoological Park in Bhubaneswar on my recent trip. Only three of the zoos in India have similar melanistic big cats at present and all have links to the ones from Nandankanan Park where the first one was born in the year 2014.

When Sneha, the tigress at Nandankanan Zoological park gave birth to four cubs, two of them turned out to be ‘normal’ like their parents, but the remaining two were melanistic. In 2015, these melanistic big cats were put in zoo enclosures for the viewing pleasure of visitors.

A melanistic tiger is the result of random variations in the gene types in the population of tigers and are uncommon. The Simlipal Tiger Reserve, about two hundred kilometres from the Nandankanan Park, holds the distinction of being the only place where you can find melanistic tigers in the wild. The black tigers of Nandankanan Park trace their ancestry to those in this tiger reserve.

The first part of my zoo visit was spent seeing snakes, monitor lizards (*shudder*), crocodiles and also a couple of emus and ostriches, not to mention nilgais (largest Asian antelopes indigenous to the Indian subcontinent), spotted deer and the like before we finally descended on the black tiger enclosure. There before our eyes stood this magnificent specimen of a big cat pacing up and down on the opposite end of the enclosure, not deigning to come any closer.

Here are some pictures:

Like every tourist place, the guide had tales to tell us. One of them was about a romantic tigress so in love with a male tiger of the zoo that she jumped over the high walls into the zoo to be with him and refused to leave for the forest. Likely story, eh? It sounds too much like a Bollywood movie story written by men about the women of their dreams who purportedly give up everything to go and live happily-ever-after in a ‘cage’ for the sake of love. Interestingly, this story about the big cat has no time frame as such and each time it is told, it is about the tiger you are seeing at that moment in time.

A word about the other tigers in the premises:
One of the Bengal tigers was more forthcoming than its black counterpart and walked to and fro right under our noses, on the other side of the fencing of course. Another sat facing away from us, totally focussed on something outside our Ken. The white tigers couldn’t be bothered and slept with their backs to us in the cool shade of a tree, only partially visible to the visitors. (For the videos, please visit shailzen on Instagram.)