Mutants are natural variations which occur due to spontaneous genetic changes or the expression of recessive (hidden) genes. Recessive genes show up when there is inbreeding. Why are these variations of colour and pattern less common in big cats? Wild cats displaying these traits may be less likely to survive to pass on the traits. In captivity, humans control which traits are bred, hence the multitude of domestic cat colours and types. In the wild, nature selects against any trait which does not enhance the animal's survival chances. In the past, the obvious reaction to any unusual big cat was to shoot it for the trophy room. As a result, many interesting mutations may have been wiped out before the genes were passed on. Some colour mutations which would disadvantage a wild big cat are bred in captivity and are not viable in the wild. It is questionable whether these mutants should be perpetuated for the sake of curiosity or aesthetics alone.

Historical quotations are credited and are in the public domain. Original text is licensed under the GFDL. I am grateful to Paul McCarthy for researching and providing extensive material, information and corrections.


Blue tigers have been recorded. They have slate grey or black stripes on a pale grey body. Blue tigers have been sporadically reported in the mountains of the Fujian province in China. It is described as maltese (bluish-grey or slate-blue) with white patches on the face and black stripes. Other normally tawny cats have blue or grey colour forms e.g. the bobcat so it would not be impossible to have blue/grey mutations in the tiger. A solid grey tiger could be caused by the non-agouti gene (causes melanism or solid black colour) and the colour dilution gene (converts colour to a washed out hue i.e. black to blue); this would result in grey tigers with darker grey stripes. In pseudomelanistic tigers - where the stripes are broader or denser than usual - the background colour may be sufficiently obscured as to give the impression it is grey. A smokey blue pseudomelanistic tiger was born in Oklahoma in the 1960s, the preserved speciment is shown in the section on black tigers.

blue tiger

The “Aberdeen Bestiary” is an illuminated manuscript on vellum, dating to the late twelfth century. The artist had made quite a good job of the animals he was familiar with, but representations of others owed more to imagination, or scanty or fanciful descriptions, than fact. The pictures accompanied descriptions of the beasts, and one of the pictures represented a Norman knight hunting a tiger. The tiger was portrayed as a graceful animal, blue with pink spots. (The Aberdeen Press and Journal, 15th December 1933). At the time of the bestiary, and for many centuries, the term “tiger” commonly referred to any big cat that was not a lion, so the depiction was likely an attempt to show the barely visible spots of a black leopard rather than representing a blue tiger.

There have been occasional reports of blue tigers in a mountainous region on the border between North and South Korea, and there are depictions of greyish tigers in Korean art.

In 1910, while in south-eastern China American Methodist missionary and renowned tiger hunter Harry R. Caldwell described a tiger coloured deep shades of blue and grey-blue. It had the normal tiger’s pattern except that the orange colour was replaced by a blue-grey colour, darker on the underside. He came close to shooting the tiger, which was a man-eater, but this would have risked harm to some nearby children and he lost his chance. This is described in the accounts below. Caldwell wrote about the incident in his book "Blue Tiger" in 1925 and noted several other sightings of blue tigers – single and in pairs - in the region. Some of the descriptions say the tiger was black with blue stripes, which suggests pseudo-melanism (abundism). Roy Chapman Andrews, who also hunted the blue tiger, believed it to be a case of melanism.

There had been sporadic sightings of blue tigers in the Fujian Province of China since the early 1900s. Caldwell called the tiger "Bluebeard" and it became a personal mission to shoot the animal for its pelt, as well as to dispatch a man-eater. Although he never caught the elusive creature, villagers confirmed the presence of "black devils" (plural) roaming the area. Caldwell sent out a telegram: "Come and help me kill the blue tiger. New York offers 500 gold for pelt." Later on, accompanied by his son John C Caldwell, he carried out unsuccessful searches in search of the blue tigers. On several occasions John Caldwell noted seeing maltese colored hairs along the mountain trails they were searching, but he did not catch sight of a live blue tiger.

Chinese Blue Tigers According to Roy Chapman Andrews

Another account of the same hunt is contained in "A Narrative Of Exploration, Adventure, And Sport In Little-Known China" written by his hunting companion, Roy Chapman Andrews (Associate Curator Of Mammals In The American Museum Of Natural History And Leader Of The Museum's Asiatic Zoölogical Expedition Of 1916-1917) and Yvette Borup Andrews (Photographer Of The Asiatic Zoölogical Expedition) published in 1918. Andres wrote ”Although the main work of the Expedition was to be conducted in Yün-nan, we decided to spend a short time in Fukien Province, China, and endeavor to obtain a specimen of the so-called "blue tiger" which has been seen twice by the Reverend Harry R. Caldwell, a missionary and amateur naturalist, who has done much hunting in the vicinity of Foochow.” I have put his account as it was published first. Chapter 7 "Blue Tiger" contains the following account (abridged to remove travelogue):

'We had a most agreeable surprise when we sailed out of Foochow in a chartered house boat to hunt the "blue tiger" at Futsing. [...] In the evening we talked of the blue tiger for a long time before we spread our beds on the roof of the boat and went to sleep under the stars. [...] Mr. Caldwell's Chinese hunter, Da-Da, lived at Lung-tao [...] Tigers often come into this village. Only a few hundred yards from our camp site, in 1911, a tiger had rushed into the house of one of the peasants and attempted to steal a child that had fallen asleep at its play under the family table. All was quiet in the house when suddenly the animal dashed through the open door. The Chinese declare that the gods protected the infant, for the beast missed his prey and seizing the leg of the table against which the baby's head was resting, bolted through the door dragging the table into the courtyard.

This was the work of the famous "blue tiger" which we had come to hunt and which had on two occasions been seen by Mr. Caldwell. The first time he heard of this strange beast was in the spring of 1910. The animal was reported as having been seen at various places within an area of a few miles almost simultaneously and so mysterious were its movements that the Chinese declared it was a spirit of the devil. After several unsuccessful hunts Mr. Caldwell finally saw the tiger at close range but as he was armed with only a shotgun it would have been useless to shoot. His second view of the beast was a few weeks later and in the same place. I will give the story in his own words:

"I selected a spot upon a hill-top and cleared away the grass and ferns with a jack-knife for a place to tie the goat. I concealed myself in the bushes ten feet away to await the attack, but the unexpected happened and the tiger approached from the rear. When I first saw the beast he was moving stealthily along a little trail just across a shallow ravine. I supposed, of course, that he was trying to locate the goat which was bleating loudly, but to my horror I saw that he was creeping upon two boys who had entered the ravine to cut grass. The huge brute moved along lizard-fashion for a few yards and then cautiously lifted his head above the grass. He was within easy springing distance when I raised my rifle, but instantly I realized that if I wounded the animal the boys would certainly meet a horrible death. Tigers are usually afraid of the human voice so instead of firing I stepped from the bushes, yelling and waving my arms. The huge cat, crouched for a spring, drew back, wavered uncertainly for a moment, and then slowly slipped away into the grass. The boys were saved but I had lost the opportunity I had sought for over a year. However, I had again seen the animal about which so many strange tales had been told. The markings of the beast are strikingly beautiful. The ground color is of a delicate shade of maltese, changing into light gray-blue on the underparts. The stripes are well defined and like those of the ordinary yellow tiger."

Before I left New York Mr. Caldwell had written me repeatedly urging me to stop at Futsing on the way to Yün-nan to try with him for the blue tiger which was still in the neighborhood. I was decidedly skeptical as to its being a distinct species, but nevertheless it was a most interesting animal and would certainly be well worth getting. I believed then, and my opinion has since been strengthened, that it is a partially melanistic phase of the ordinary yellow tiger. Black leopards are common in India and the Malay Peninsula and as only a single individual of the blue tiger has been reported the evidence hardly warrants the assumption that it represents a distinct species.

We hunted the animal for five weeks. The brute ranged in the vicinity of two or three villages about seven miles apart, but was seen most frequently near Lung-tao. He was as elusive as a will o' the wisp, killing a dog or goat in one village and by the time we had hurried across the mountains appearing in another spot a few miles away, leaving a trail of terrified natives who flocked to our camp to recount his depredations. He was in truth the "Great Invisible" [referring to elusiveness of tigers] and it seemed impossible that we should not get him sooner or later, but we never did. Once we missed him by a hair's breadth through sheer bad luck, and it was only by exercising almost superhuman restraint that we prevented ourselves from doing bodily harm to the three Chinese who ruined our hunt. Every evening for a week we had faithfully taken a goat into the "Long Ravine," for the blue tiger had been seen several times near this lair. On the eighth afternoon we were in the "blind" at three o'clock as usual. We had tied a goat to a tree nearby and her two kids were but a few feet away. The grass-filled lair lay shimmering in the breathless heat, silent save for the echoes of the bleating goats. Crouched behind the screen of branches, for three long hours we sat in the patchwork shade,--motionless, dripping with perspiration, hardly breathing,--and watched the shadows steal slowly down the narrow ravine. It was a wild place [...] the only entrance was by the tiger tunnels which drove their twisting way through the murderous growth far in toward its gloomy heart. [...] I knew it was six o'clock and in half an hour another day of disappointment would be ended. Suddenly at the left and just below us there came the faintest crunching sound as a loose stone shifted under a heavy weight; then a rustling in the grass. Instantly the captive goat gave a shrill bleat of terror and tugged frantically at the rope which held it to the tree.

At the first sound Harry had breathed in my ear "Get ready, he's coming." I was half kneeling with my heavy .405 Winchester pushed forward and the hammer up. The blood drummed in my ears and my neck muscles ached with the strain but I thanked Heaven that my hands were steady. Caldwell sat like a graven image, the stock of his little 22 caliber high power Savage nestling against his cheek. Our eyes met for an instant and I knew in that glance that the blue tiger would never make another charge, for if I missed him, Harry wouldn't. For ten minutes we waited and my heart lost a beat when twenty feet away the grass began to move again--but rapidly and up the ravine. I saw Harry watching the lair with a puzzled look which changed to one of disgust as a chorus of yells sounded across the ravine and three Chinese wood cutters appeared on the opposite slope. They were taking a short cut home, shouting to drive away the tigers--and they had succeeded only too well, for the blue tiger had slipped back to the heart of the lair from whence he had come. He had been nearly ours and again we had lost him! I felt so badly that I could not even swear and it wasn't the fact that Harry was a missionary which kept me from it, either. Caldwell exclaimed just once, for his disappointment was even more bitter than mine; he had been hunting this same tiger off and on for six years.

It was useless for us to wait longer that evening and we pushed our way through the sword grass to the entrance of the tunnel down which the tiger had come. There in the soft earth were the great footprints where he had crouched at the entrance to take a cautious survey before charging into the open. As we looked, Harry suddenly turned to me and said: "Roy, let's go into the lair. There is just one chance in a thousand that we may get a shot." Now I must admit that I was not very enthusiastic about that little excursion, but in we went, crawling on our hands and knees up the narrow passage. Every few feet we passed side branches from the main tunnel in any one of which the tiger might easily have been lying in wait and could have killed us as we passed. It was a foolhardy thing to do and I am free to admit that I was scared. It was not long before Harry twisted about and said: "Roy, I haven't lost any tigers in here; let's get out." And out we came faster than we went in.

This was only one of the times when the "Great Invisible" was almost in our hands. A few days later a Chinese found the blue tiger asleep under a rice bank early in the afternoon. Frightened almost to death he ran a mile and a half to our camp only to find that we had left half an hour before for another village where the brute had killed two wild cats early in the morning. Again, the tiger pushed open the door of a house at daybreak just as the members of the family were getting up, stole a dog from the "heaven's well," dragged it to a hillside and partly devoured it. We were in camp only a mile away and our Chinese hunters found the carcass on a narrow ledge in the sword grass high up on the mountain side. The spot was an impossible one to watch and we set a huge grizzly bear trap which had been carried with us from New York. It seemed out of the question for any animal to return to the carcass of the dog without getting caught and yet the tiger did it. With his hind quarters on the upper terrace he dropped down, stretched his long neck across the trap, seized the dog which had been wired to a tree and pulled it away. It was evident that he was quite unconscious of the trap for his fore feet had actually been placed upon one of the jaws only two inches from the pan which would have sprung it.

One afternoon we responded to a call from Bui-tao, a village seven miles beyond Lung-tao, where the blue tiger had been seen that day. The natives assured us that the animal continually crossed a hill, thickly clothed with pines and sword grass just above the village and even though it was late when we arrived Harry thought it wise to set the trap that night. It was pitch dark before we reached the ridge carrying the trap, two lanterns, an electric flash-lamp and a wretched little dog for bait. We had been engaged for about fifteen minutes making a pen for the dog, and Caldwell and I were on our knees over the trap when suddenly a low rumbling growl came from the grass not twenty feet away. We jumped to our feet just as it sounded again, this time ending in a snarl. The tiger had arrived a few moments too early and we were in the rather uncomfortable position of having to return to the village by way of a narrow trail through the jungle. With our rifles ready and the electric lamp cutting a brilliant path in the darkness we walked slowly toward the edge of the sword grass hoping to see the flash of the tiger's eyes, but the beast backed off beyond the range of the light into an impenetrable tangle where we could not follow. Apparently he was frightened by the lantern, for we did not hear him again.

After nearly a month of disappointments such as these Mr. Heller joined us at Bui-tao with Mr. Kellogg. Caldwell thought it advisable to shift camp to the Ling-suik monastery, about twelve miles away, where he had once spent a summer with his family and had killed several tigers. This was within the blue tiger's range and, moreover, had the advantage of offering a better general collecting ground than Bui-tao; thus with Heller to look after the small mammals we could begin to make our time count for something if we did not get the tiger. [...] Caldwell and I always spent the afternoon at the blue tiger's lair but the animal had suddenly shifted his operations back to Lung-tao and did not appear at Ling-suik while we were there.

Both Caldwell and I lost from fifteen to twenty pounds in weight during the time we hunted the blue tiger and each of us had serious trouble from abscesses. I have never worked in a more trying climate--even that of Borneo and the Dutch East Indies where I collected in 1909-10, was much less debilitating than Fukien in the summer. The average temperature was about 95 degrees in the shade, but the humidity was so high that one felt as though one were wrapped in a wet blanket and even during a six weeks' rainless period the air was saturated with moisture from the sea-winds. [...] It was hard to leave Fukien without the blue tiger but we had hunted him unsuccessfully for five weeks and there was other and more important work awaiting us in Yun-nan. It required thirty porters to transport our baggage from the Ling-suik monastery to Daing-nei, twenty-one miles away, where two houseboats were to meet us, and by ten o'clock in the evening we were lying off Pagoda Anchorage awaiting the flood tide to take us to Foochow. We made our beds on the deck house and in the morning opened our eyes to find the boat tied to the wharf at the Custom House on the Bund, and ourselves in full view of all Foochow had it been awake at that hour.'

Blue tiger, also displaying pseudo-melanism.

Chinese Blue Tigers According to Harry R. Caldwell

Harry R. Caldwell documented his experience in his book “The Blue Tiger,” published in 1925. He described the markings of the animal as being marvellously beautiful, the ground colour seeming to be a deep shade of maltese (grey-blue, like a Russian Blue cat) , changing into almost deep blue on the under parts (though this may have been the effect of shadow). The stripes were well defined, and so far as Caldwell was able to make out, were similar to those of a tiger of the regular type (so not pseudomelanism/abundism). Caldwell’s son wrote in "Our Friends The Tigers" (1954) of finding maltese (grey-blue) hairs of Futsing's blue tigers along the mountain trails when accompanying his father during his many searches for the blue tigers.

Here is Caldwell’s own account: CHAPTER VI - BLUEBEARD OF THE BIG RAVINE. The first time that I ever heard of “Bluebeard,” or “Black Devil,” as the Chinese call him, was in the spring of 1910. The many stories I had previously heard of tigers and their doings had interested me but little, as I was busy and it seemed useless to entertain a thought of a real tiger hunt. But when I began to hear of the periodic visits of a “black tiger” I began to sit straight up and take notice. I desired, of course, not only actually to see, but to secure one of these peculiarly marked animals, the existence of which I could now no longer doubt. In April I undertook for the first time to get a glimpse of this tiger, which had been moving about between the villages working havoc among both the cattle and the goats and most daring in attacking human beings. So mysterious indeed were the movements of this animal that many people declared it was some evil spirit abroad. The animal had been definitely reported as having been seen at points a considerable distance apart at about the same hour, so it was very much a question where I would be able to connect up with it.

I selected for my hunt the largest of a number of heavily wooded ravines, staking out a goat in what was known to be an oft-frequented lair. In doing this I had to take into account the man-eaters of the regular type known to be almost constantly found in and around this lair. When I actually started on the enterprise I realized that it was an undertaking well fitted to try the nerve of any man, for the only possible chance for a shot was to clear out a place with a jackknife where the goat could be tethered, and then conceal oneself in the grass to wait an attack. Armed with a .303 Savage rifle I made an attempt to lure into my presence the wonderful tiger about which I had heard so many interesting stories. I did not meet with success this time, though I added to my experience that of having braved a tiger right in the lair under conditions rendering such an under-taking hazardous.

A couple of weeks later I decided to combine another hunt after this tiger with an evangelistic trip into the region adjacent to its habitat. Arranging with my burden-bearer to meet me on a certain day with supplies, and with my rifle. I set off on my quite extended itinerary, armed only with my shotgun, upon which I depended largely for supplying the lander with fresh meat. Arriving at the point on the day agreed upon, I found my burden-bearer had not turned up, so there was nothing for me to do but forego the pleasure of the attempt to get the prize upon which I had set my heart or else to undertake the task with a shotgun. I had previously had an experience in shooting a tiger at a few yards’ distance with a shotgun, so hesitated about going after this animal thus armed. But being very much pressed for time, I decided to make an attempt with the gun in hand. Some sticks of lead were molded by melting bird shot and pouring the metal into a small bamboo. These were cut into slugs and rolled quite round between flat stones. This furnished a formidable load. I then secured a goat and led it into the ravine, tying it at a point where two trails crossed.

Taking my seat in the bushes a few yards from the goat, I settled down for a long wait, if this became necessary. Long before the sun had set behind the rugged peaks overhanging the western rim of the ravine my attention was summoned by that mysterious something which the woodsman is unable to explain, but which directs the eye to a point where something has moved without the conscious realization of having seen it move. My eye was immediately fixed upon the object of my hunt - “Bluebeard,” lying like a great domestic at with head erect in a perfectly open place crossed by the trail. The animal was all that had been pictured to me, and far more. Not to exceed twenty yards away, the great beast lay motionless, except for the nervous whipping of the end of the tail. I could easily have hit him with a pop-gun, yet I would not venture to fire with my shotgun, for I purposed not to send the animal wounded into the brush. In order to attack my goat the tiger would have to pass within eight yards of my hiding place. and it was my purpose to permit it to reach the nearest point before I fired. Instead of attacking the goat as I had expected, the big cat slowly arose, sat for a moment in the trail, then stood erect for a few moments as if about to advance. But instead of doing so he turned around three times as if undecided what move next to make and showing signs of great nervousness, and then gracefully bounded up three terraces and disappeared behind the flowering wild pear bush. I waited almost breathlessly until dusk but the tiger did not appear again. I worked my way out of the ravine in the darkness with the satisfaction of having seen at short distance the trophy I was seeking, so that I could no longer doubt the actual existence of what seemed to be a new species of tiger.

A number of weeks elapsed before I could again devote any attention to “Bluebeard.” It happened that on the eleventh of May I was passing through the same region when I was met by the villagers, who acquainted me with the sad news that a boy had been killed and eaten by a tiger the day before. I suspected the blue tiger, of course, and felt sure that he was then in the ravine where I had seen him. Yielding to the entreaties of the villagers I decided to spend the night in the community and try to get a shot. Again I secured a goat and led it into the ravine, tethering it in exactly the spot where the blue tiger had lain in the trail. After waiting in a cramped position for three hours my cook, who was crouched beside me, nudged my elbow whispering, “Tiger,” and, glancing in the direction he was looking, I saw a huge tiger watching the goat. I was very much disappointed upon seeing that the animal responding to the bleating of the goat was not the blue trophy I so much desired. As I was now armed with my rifle, one shot dropped the cat where it stood. I was, of course, pleased over securing such a fine specimen, but far from satisfied, as it was not the one upon which I had set my heart.

In September of the same year I was again passing through this region when I heard that the blue tiger had rushed into a home the evening before and attacked a child. The child had fallen asleep at its play under the family table, around which were seated men smoking and conversing. Everything was normal in the home when the “Black Devil” rushed in at the open door and dashed at the sleeping child. The Chinese declare the gods protected the child, for instead of seizing the head of the child the tiger grasped the leg of the table against which the head was reclining, bolting out of the door with the table into the open court. The child slept peacefully on until awakened in the arms of its terrified mother.

Again I tried for the strange animal. This time I selected a point on a ridge between two lairs, clearing away a few yards with my pocketknife, in the center of which a goat was tied. It was necessary to take our stand within ten feet of the goat, as the cover was so dense. The unexpected happened, and the tiger approached along a path from our rear. Again my cook saw him first, calling my attention to what he declared was an animal. I glanced at the object, which appeared to me to be a man dressed in the conventional light blue garment and crouching as if picking herbs from beside the trail. I simply whispered to the cook “Man,” and again turned my attention to watching the goat. Again the cook tugged at my elbow, saying “Tiger, surely a tiger,” and I once more looked at the object, this time to see what I thought was a man- still upon his knees in the trail. I was about to turn again toward the goat when my cook excitedly said, “Look, look, it is a tiger,” and, turning, saw the great beast lengthen out and move cautiously along the trail a couple of rods and then come to a sitting position near a clump of grass. Now focusing upon what I had altogether overlooked in my previous hurried glances I saw the huge head of the tiger above the blue which had appeared to me to be the clothes of a man. What I had been looking at was the chest and belly of the beast.

The tiger had followed a trail along the side of a hill, and I suppose was advancing in response to the bleating of our goat. I noiselessly turned around and sidled up to a little pine tree, leveling my rifle upon the chest of the brute. As I was about to tighten my finger upon the trigger I noticed that the animal was interested in something below it and in the intervening ravine. Without removing the gun from the limb upon which it was resting I leaned forward to look into the ravine to see what was attracting the attention of the tiger. To my horror I saw two boys gathering up bundles of dry ferns and grass. I dared not fire at the tiger. I would much rather never get a shot at him than to have him roll down wounded upon the defenseless boys. Instead of firing I stood up and moved so as to attract his attention. Upon seeing me Bluebeard crouched low in the path behind the grass. I waited, moving back and forth so as to keep his attention directed my way, until the boys gathered up their fuel and moved out of danger.

The tiger crouched behind the tussock of grass motionless for half an hour. I suggested to my cook that the only chance to get a shot was to steal away and stalk him from the flank. This maneuvering required longer than we had anticipated, and when our heads came up over the level of the trail the tiger was gone. There were tracks in the trail showing where he had hurriedly retreated when we withdrew. Thus had come and gone the opportunity I had been waiting for through a full year. I had met this strange tiger face to face and had deliberately permitted him to go at large, to continue his depredations throughout the neighborhood, but I felt quite satisfied in having seen so plainly and for so long a time the cat about which so many strange and almost uncanny tales had been told. The markings of the animal were marvelously beautiful. The ground color seemed to be a deep shade of maltese, changing into almost deep blue on the under parts. The stripes were well defined, and so far as I was able to make out similar to those on a tiger of the regular type.

The above notes were made several years ago. I moved away from this coast region in 1915, and with the exception of but two short visits have not been back since. I have thus not been able to make further first-hand studies of this wonderful animal, though many appeals have come to me far inland to return and devote some time to hunting this vicious man-eating member of the cat family. While passing through the country with a party of travelers in 1920 the villagers all along the route declared that the so-called “Black Devils” had increased greatly in numbers, and were frequently seen. Eight days in succession one lay on an abandoned terrace during the afternoon just behind a village of eight hundred people. Practically everyone in this village told the same story, and described the tiger exactly the same, saying it was black with maltese markings, putting the thing just backward. Hunters say it appears black at a distance, but upon coming closer the lighter markings begin to show plainly.

This tiger, or tigers of this type, spread devastation among the peasant people during the latter part of 1921 and the spring of 1922. Seeing several accounts of the terrible toll of lives reported in the vernacular press in Foochow in April, 1922, with a description of the animal responsible for this killing, I decided to send my cook down to spend a month or so hunting him. The Chinese newspapers all referred to him as a “Blue Tiger,” making me all the more anxious that my cook go after it, since I was unable to do so. I instructed my cook to engage for the month a certain courageous hunter with whom I was acquainted. These two men soon connected up with the animal in the very midst of his man killing. In one community sixty people had been killed during the previous few weeks, one of them an especially good friend of mine. This man was digging ginger roots in his garden at the end of his house near the Rocking Stone Monastery when the tiger attacked, killing him and devouring him almost under the shadow of his own roof. Careful inquiry was made among eyewitnesses concerning this tiger during this particular period of killing, and three hundred people who had seen the animal at least once at close quarters bore testimony as to markings, color, and size. One woman interviewed had a very narrow escape when she was crouched down at the foot of some stone steps washing clothes in a pool. The tiger lunged at her from above, passing completely over her and landing in the water. He then became terrified and instead of attacking again swam across the pool, clambering out on the other side with great difficulty. The woman was so frightened that she was unable to return to her home, a few yards away, until help came.

A very reliable hunter tells of having seen in April two of the dark-colored tigers together. He was stalking cock pheasants among the foothills when he heard a tiger call only a short distance away. Instead of trying to escape he concealed himself between two large bowlders having a crevice through which he could look in the direction of the tiger. Soon he saw a large blue tiger walk out of the cover and begin to paw the ground in an open space. This animal was in plain view, pawing and calling for near half an hour, when a second and smaller tiger of the same type walked into the open. The two huge cats stood for ten minutes in the open and then moved off diagonally down the hill and away from the concealed hunter. This man says the larger of the two would weigh more than four hundred and fifty pounds.

During the month of May my cook and his companion followed the animal for two weeks, during which time he hardly missed a day killing one or more persons. While the hunters were waiting in the vicinity of a kill of that day the tiger would move on a mile or so and kill another person. Thus the thing went on day after day until the tiger made the round of the big lair where I had first seen him, killing a man in the village where he had years before attacked the sleeping child, only to get a mouthful of table leg. Leaving this village he passed along a trail less than a hundred yards behind my cook's home, crossing a divide and killing two people.

The second hunter lived five miles from this point, and while he was assisting my cook in a hunt near this last kill, runners came from his own home, saying his three children had just been killed. Together they hurried to the home of the anxious hunter, to find the report true. The children had been playing happily in the dooryard when the tiger attacked, killing and carrying into the bush each of the three without anyone discovering it. Finally a neighbor woman noticed that the children were quiet and walked up beside their home to call them. She, too, was attacked and instantly killed. When the two hunters reached the place they found the bodies of the woman and two of the children laying on an abandoned terrace behind the house, with the bones of an eleven-year-old girl less than four yards away. My cook, the man Da Da mentioned in Roy Chapman Andrews’ ‘Camps and Trails in China,’ and without exception the finest big game hunter to be found among the natives in South China, is set aside to devote a full year to hunting this tiger. With ten tigers to his credit already, I am confidently expecting that he will get one of the “Blue Cats” ere the year shall close.

Other Reports of Blue Tigers

Based on the accounts of Andrews and Caldwell, several other hunters mounted expeditions to secure the blue tiger. The Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette, 7th May 1921 reports : FOR BLUE TIGERS. An American’s Search on Chinese Coast. Mr Arthur de Carle Sowerby, Fellow of the “Zoo,” and member of the Biological Society of Washington, U.S.A., will shortly leave London in search blue tigers in China. What a blue tiger is really like no-one in Europe or America yet knows. It may be sky-blue or periwinkle, or cobalt or even Prussian blue. At any rate, it is said to be blue. It has been heard of along the south-eastern coast of China, and it is much ”wanted” by zoologists. He is going to track them on behalf of the Smithsonian Institute at Washington—a natural history museum. He will go prepared, if necessary, to hunt a blue tiger to its lair in a cave, with the aid of torches, and to shoot it at sight. The blue tiger is perhaps a distinct species," said Mr. Sowerby, “and it is probably smaller than the Bengal tiger. Stories are told of it having been seen near the Chinese coast; but there is no specimen of it in any collection." Another animal which there is no living example in any Zoo is the great panda, or large cat-bear, and Mr Sowerby hopes to find one of these. The great panda stands about 2 and-a-half feet high, has no tail, and lives in the highlands on the Tibet border. Two other rarities to be searched for are the white-maned serow. a kind of goat with a long white mane, and the takin, a creature something like a musk-ox with a Roman nose. Mr Sowerby expects to have two or three years travelling about southern China, of which ne hopes make an exhaustive biological survey. He will make call on the oldest inhabitants, known as the Lolo and the Miaotzre, two branches of the original population of China, who were there before the Chinese. These remnants of an almost vanished race live in the mountains in the south-went of China.

Parts of that news article were printed throughout the British press in the following several days, with most mentioning the “blue tiger” and omitting the other creatures. For example, “BLUE TIGER QUEST” in the Lancashire Evening Post, 14th May 1921: Mr. Arthur de Carle Sowerby left Liverpool, yesterday, the Canadian-Pacific liner Melita for China hunt blue tigers, a rare species of dark-skinned tiger known to exist in China. Their skins are required for museums in Britain and America. Mr. Sowerby expects to be away about three years. The Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette (22nd December, 1921) added: ”Mr. A. de C. Sowerby, the English naturalist, who is now in China – where he met with perilous adventures 12 years ago – in search of the blue tiger and of other coveted trouvaille, belongs to a North country family of artists and scientists, long settled in London, who have been devoted to botanical research for four generations.” At that time, zoology was the poor relation of botany, and while the giant panda and other animals mentioned have become known to the world, the blue tiger remains a creature of myth.

The Queenslander, 1st October, 1921 also mused on Sowerby’s mission: ”Is there a Blue Tiger? What is a blue tiger? No one can say, for no European or American traveller has ever seen one. But an expedition has just left Liverpool to search for it, and we may yet see a blue tiger in the London Zoo, or, at any rate, a stuffed specimen in the Natural History Museum (says a writer in "The Children's Newspaper"). A rare species of dark-skinned animal, called by the natives the blue tiger, is said to exist in Southern China, and Mr. Arthur Sowerby, a distinguished scientist, has just sailed from Liverpool on an expedition [. . . ] if the blue tiger is found in China that will add a fifth to the living species. Probably the name arises from the creature's dark, grey colour, and there may really be no distinct species at all. Tigers of a freakish colour are found at rare intervals, and it may have been such creatures that gave rise to the story of a separate species. A perfectly black tiger was found dead some years ago at Chittagong, in India, and on several occasions in India white tigers have been found with very faint stripes. The blue tiger, if it is found by Mr. Sowerby's expedition, may prove to be a grey variety of the Manchurian tiger.”

When Caldwell’s book came out in England, it was reviewed in numerous papers. For example THE BLUE TIGER, An extraordinary account of a white man’s adventure in the heart of China, will shortly be published. The author is Mr. Harry R. Caldwell, who claims that he has added more than 20,000 specimens to natural history museums. Mr. Caldwell killed the blue tiger which had become an object of superstitious dread throughout a large part of China. Though he carried a rifle in one hand he carried a Bible in the other converted thousands of Chinese to Christianity. (Nottingham Evening Post, 15th May 1925). Caldwell was described elsewhere as a fine example of American “muscular Christianity” and Roy Andrews described him in similar terms. A BLUE TIGER? “I always picture him with rifle in one hand and a Bible in the other—using- the rifle not only to keep himself fit, physically and mentally, but also as the wedge to force open the walls of superstition and idolatry, that may drive home the Great Truth to which he has dedicated the fullness his youth of life." Thus writes Dr. Roy Andrews, of that huge organization the American Museum of Natural History, referring to Mr. Harry R. Caldwell, who has related his missionary adventures China in "Blue Tiger" (Duckworth, 15s.). If Mr. Caldwell had a rifle in one hand and a Bible in the other, he also had behind, with real American enterprise, the camera, for there are 40 illustrations to substantiate his trophies and triumphs. Are there tigers? Mr. Caldwell says ' Yes' emphatically, and asserts that they will enter homes and kill children and women." The markings ware marvellously beautiful. The ground colour seemed to be a deep shade of maltese, changing into almost deep blue on the under parts. The stripes were well defined, and as far as I was able to make out, similar to those on a tiger of the regular type." Tigers of this type spread devastation among the peasant people during the latter part of 1921 and the spring of 1922. In one community 60 people were killed in a few weeks. Mr Caldwell, though he secured several tigers, did not bag a blue one, and now a native hunter with ten tigers his credit, is to devote full year to hunting the “blue cat.” (Western Morning News, 26th October 1925)

The story of a missionary (Hanecy) and trophy-hunter (Smith) pursuing a man-eating blue tiger in China formed part of the mystery novel “The Blue Ghost” by H. Bedford Jones in 1924. That element of the story is heavily based on Caldwell’s hunt for the blue tiger. ”Set out to obtain the glory that would crown them all – the blue tiger. This was at the point were he met Hanecy. So much for the baron. Hanecy was after the blue tiger himself. An American museum has sent him and order to get it, and Jim Hanecy had gone to get it. It mattered nothing to him that half the sportsmen in the orient had tried to get the blue tiger, either by expedition or by long-distance purchase. It mattered nothing to him that the beast was known as the ‘blue ghost,’ and that no one knew if it were a distinct species or a lone and outlawed gentleman o the tiger kingdom. It was Hanecy’s business to fill commissions . . . he knew China as well as any man knows it, and usually got what he went after.” In the end, Hanecy has a chance encounter with the blue tiger and shoots it, beating Smith to the prize (the good Christian triumphing over the greedy trophy-hunter).

In the Altoona Tribune, 10th October, 1944, as an aside in an article about a blue wolf, is the mention “the fabulous Blue Tiger of China, although some Irish missionary priests reported lately having seen a blue tiger cub in a Chinese hill town.”

Richard Perry, in his book "The World Of The Tiger" reiterated that China's blue tigers were called blue devils because they were so often man eaters. More recently, there have been occasional reports of blue tigers in a mountainous region on the border between North and South Korea. Because North Korea does not welcome outsiders, it is not currently possible to investigate sightings. Slate-coloured tigers may represent a montane population of tigers where the colour has become fixed in a small, isolated and inbred population. Caldwell's hunting expedition indicates that blue tigers, if they are a separate race, prefer inaccessible regions where they are less likely to be encountered by humans. There are no blue tigers in captivity today - if there were, the recessive gene would make it easy to fix the trait. If a smokey blue tiger was born in the Woodland Park Zoo, this would be the only captive blue tiger. There are no blue tiger pelts in museums or private collections and the images here are artist's impressions. Note: the term "Maltese" means "slate grey" and comes from the domestic cat world; it does not refer to Malta as the origin of the blue tigers.

Chinese Blue Tigers According to Roy Chapman Andrews in 1951

Andrews re-wrote his story of the Chinese Blue Tiger for his book “Heart of Asia, True Tales of the Far East,” by ROY CHAPMAN ANDREWS, published in 1951. The Chapter “The Great Invisible” describes the quest for the creature in the form of an adventure story for a more general audience. It was also published in this style in 1950 as "On the Trail of the Blue Tiger."

In South China, weird legends of men and animals come from the hill people. They find their way to the coast, where their telling often lures men into the back country. I had followed just such a legend, the story of a "blue" tiger. To me it was not completely credible, although it had been substantiated by friends in both America and China. Still, I told myself as I lay on my camp cot that night, I would never really believe a blue tiger existed until I saw one myself. My thoughts were suddenly interrupted. A shriek, like a jagged flash of lightning, tore apart the South China night; then a snarl and the agonized cry of a child. I leaped to my feet. "Good God, Harry, what is it?" Harry Caldwell was already on his feet, jamming cartridges into his rifle. "Tiger, I think. Hurry!"

We ran to a house a hundred yards away. The courtyard swarmed with screaming Chinese. A woman sat on the floor rocking back and forth, tearing handfuls of hair out by the roots. "Ai-ya, ai-ya," she wailed, "my baby. The black tiger. It took my baby. Kill it, Shen-shung [Mister]; kill the black tiger."

Harry talked rapidly with the terrified natives. "Get lanterns," he shouted. "Come with me." We dashed out the gate and across the rice dikes followed by a dozen men. Breathlessly, Harry told me what had happened. "Family eating--baby playing in the court--suddenly the tiger rushed through the door and grabbed the child. He stood for a moment and then leaped over the wall. There's one chance in a thousand he may drop the baby when he sees the lights--but it would be dead--tiger'll head for the big ravine, I'm sure--it's the blue devil--that's where he lives--this makes sixteen for him--sixteen people in two years!"

For a mile we followed a narrow path beside the rice fields. Where the sword grass shut in like a wall on either side, a bloody rag hung on a thorn bush; a few feet beyond lay a tiny baby's shoe. My throat tightened at sight of that pathetic little object. Caldwell stopped. "No use going farther. The poor little fellow's done for. We'll have to wait until tomorrow."

We turned back to the village but not to sleep. The wailing of the family kept the night alive with the sounds of death. Moreover, our tent was pitched in an orchard and there might be another tiger on the prowl. I couldn't have slept, anyway, so I smoked my pipe until far into the morning, while Harry sat in the tent door, relaxed, but alert and watchful with a .22-caliber Hi Power Savage rifle across his knees. There was plenty of time to talk and think. I studied Caldwell curiously, for we had only just met after months of correspondence. Six feet tall, spare and hard as a trained athlete, with a flashing smile that seldom left his face in repose, intensely alive, bursting with enthusiasm. That was the man with whom I had come to hunt a strange tiger! A missionary, too, though he didn't resemble any I had ever seen!

It was Captain Thomas Holcomb of the U. S. Marine Corps who first spoke of him to me at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. [Lieut. General Thomas Holcomb (Rtd.), Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II. Now U. S. Minister to South Africa.] "He is an amazing man," Tom said. "An effective missionary, a good amateur naturalist, and the finest field rifle shot I've ever seen. I hunted with him. He kills tigers with a .303 Savage rifle. Better get in touch with him if you're going to China; he'd be useful to you and to the Museum."

This was in 1916. I was planning an expedition to the mountains of the Tibetan frontier and Yunnan for the American Museum of Natural History, so I wrote Caldwell at Futsing, China. His reply was vibrant with the personality of the man and told an amazing story. There was a strange tiger there; not yellow like the ordinary tiger but Maltese blue. Perhaps it was a new species. Why didn't I stop and try to get it on my way to Yunnan? Letter after letter followed, always full of accounts of the "blue tiger." In spite of what Caldwell said, I didn't believe it was a new species, but rather a melanistic phase of the yellow tiger. Melanism, the opposite of albinism, is an excess of coloring matter in the skin and occurs in many animals. Some, like leopards, squirrels, rabbits, and foxes, are highly susceptible to it; in others, it has never been recorded. A blue, or black, tiger was unknown to the zoological world, but Caldwell's word could not be doubted. Moreover, it was substantiated by a letter from Arthur de C. Sowerby, then representing the Smithsonian Institution as a field naturalist in China. The Museum authorities agreed that the story certainly should be investigated.

After it was decided that I was to stop at Futsing, I talked with Dr. William T. Hornaday, then Director of the New York Zoological Park in the Bronx. "Perhaps," I told him, "I might bring it back alive. When it died, the Museum would get the skin and skeleton anyway. Would you be interested?"

Hornaday smiled. "Would I be interested to have the only blue tiger in the world? Don't ask silly questions! I'll get you a trap if you'll try to use it."

So that was that, and I set off for China and Harry Caldwell. [. . .] "About this blue tiger, Harry! How many times have you seen it?"

"Twice. The first time he wasn't twenty yards from me, but I had only a shotgun. I came on him suddenly, lying right in the path in the sun like a great Maltese cat. While I was watching, he got up slowly and stood for a moment in the trail, then turned around three times. I thought he was going to lie down again, but he stretched, humped his back, and jumped into the bushes. I had a perfect view; could have hit him with a stone. He's really beautiful. The ground color of his body is Maltese, changing into light blue on the lower sides and belly. The stripes are black and well defined, like those on a yellow tiger. The second time was last year, and I had him absolutely cold in the sights of my rifle but I didn't dare shoot. I had staked a goat in an open space near the lair, and saw the blue tiger creeping up, but from the other side of the ravine. I was going to fire when I realized he was stalking two boys asleep under an old dike right below him. I didn't know they were there. If I had wounded the beast, he'd have certainly rolled down on the boys. I couldn't chance it, so stood up and yelled. He turned about facing me, snarled, and then walked slowly into the grass."

"I'd certainly like to get him alive for the Zoo," I said. "He'd cause a sensation, but I suppose we'll have to kill him tomorrow. What time will we go out?"

"Not until mid-afternoon. The baby was so small it won't be a big meal for the tiger and by evening he'll be looking for something else—I hope."

When the sun rose in a hot red ball over the hills, and the village stirred to life, Caldwell and I pulled the tent flap and slept till noon. Before three o'clock we were on our way through the rice paddies, dragging two reluctant goats, a mother and her kid. At the entrance to a narrow ravine, Caldwell halted. "This is where the blue tiger lives and I'll bet he's home. We'll tie the goats in this little open space and get behind those bushes." [. . .] "Sit tight until we hear of him again. He operates about three or four villages, here and on the other side of the mountain, but seldom stays more than a day or two in any one place. The natives will let us know as soon as he turns up."

We had to wait only a day when a breathless Chinese arrived at camp from a village four miles away. "The black tiger came right into the street, and grabbed a dog. He threw it over his shoulder like a sack of rice and ran off to the hills. Everyone followed, yelling and beating pans and just inside the grass, on an old dike, he dropped the dog. It's there; we found it."

Caldwell was electrified. "This time we'll get him alive, Roy. If a tiger hasn't finished his kill he'll always come back after dark and they like dogs better than anything else. We'll set the trap. I'll bet a dollar to a plugged nickel we'll have him in the morning."

We hurried to the village. Dozens of excited men wanted to show us the dog, but Caldwell selected only two and told the others to make a cage of heavy bamboo trunks. "We'll catch the black tiger for you tonight," he said. "I speak the truth." They looked dubious but examined the trap with enormous interest. I clamped the vises on the springs, screwed them down, and set the trap. Then Wang, Elder of the village, touched the pan with a heavy stick and the jaws snapped shut. Three men tried to pull it out; it wouldn't budge.

"That," the Elder pronounced, "is a good trap. Never has its like been seen in China. It will hold the black tiger, or any other tiger, but," he added slyly, "first he must get in it. I doubt that he ever will."

We found the dog lying beside a tree on a terrace about five feet wide, just above the open rice fields. Its skull was crushed, probably from the first blow of the tiger's paw, but only teeth marks showed on the body. "It couldn't be better," Harry said. We buried the trap on the terrace, and fastened the dog to the tree with heavy wire. We slept that night in the village. After sunrise at least fifty men, women, and boys accompanied us to the trap, bearing a cage strong enough to hold a gorilla. Harry and I halted the crowd a hundred yards away and approached the terrace, rifles ready. Silence.

"What's wrong, Roy? He ought to be raising Cain."

Foot by foot we crept forward, but not a sound broke the stillness of the jungle. At last we could see the trap. No tiger, and the dog was gone! We stared in dumb amazement.

"It just can't be," Harry said. But it was, all too plainly. The blue tiger had approached from above, as we expected, dropped his forefeet on the terrace, reached over, and lifted our securely wired dog from the tree as though it had been tied with string. Then he had eaten it comfortably on the upper dike a few feet away. The claw marks were within an inch of the trap-pan. Just one inch more and we'd have had him!

The villagers crowded about like a jury to examine the evidence. Collectively they shook their heads and old Wang delivered the verdict. "Some years ago, Sheng, as you well know, killed his father. He was given the Death of a Thousand Cuts, but nothing was done by our village to atone for his crime. The Gods were offended. Now they have sent this black beast to harass our dwelling place. It is not a 'proper' tiger. No one can trap or kill an Evil Spirit."

Harry and I walked back to camp, saying little. We had "lost face" with the villagers and that was bad. I thought of what a sensation the blue tiger would have caused in New York. To make it worse, a runner waited at the village with a cable from Dr. Hornaday. "How about the blue tiger," it read, "when may we expect him?"

Three days later the tiger killed again seven miles from our camp. It was asleep on a grass-covered terrace when a dozen fuel gatherers disturbed it. The enraged beast leaped to its feet and dashed into the group, striking right and left with its great paws. One man's skull was crushed; another's head ripped half off his shoulders; a third landed ten feet away on a lower dike with a broken neck. Then the tiger jumped to an abandoned terrace, stood for a moment, and turned off into the grass. It made no attempt to drag off any of its victims; apparently the killing was out of sheer bad temper at being disturbed. When word reached us at three o'clock Caldwell and I almost ran the seven miles. "He's sure to return this afternoon," Harry said. "We've got to get there before he comes."

For two wretched hours we sat in the broiling sun, crouched behind a bush near the terrace where the men had been killed. God, it was hot! The thermometer had registered plus 106 degrees in the shade when we left, and the humidity must have been eighty per cent. I didn't feel at all well. Jagged black patches darted before my eyes and violent nausea doubled me up in uncontrollable spasms of retching and coughing. Every time I went into my act the sounds whacked back like rifle shots in the stillness of the jungle. Of course, that ruined our chance again. Just as night was closing in, the vague outline of the blue tiger showed against a background of feathery bamboo on the opposite slope, but before either of us could shoot, it faded from sight like a black ghost. "The Great Invisible," I remarked, sadly, "that's what he ought to be called."

My heat stroke was a bad one, and for a week I lay in camp under a tree, wracked with fever, headache, and nausea. Finally I had to leave for Hong Kong to outfit for a year's expedition along the Tibetan frontier, but ten days of Caldwell's vacation still remained. He stayed on for another go at the Great Invisible and it very nearly cost him his life. I've set down the story as he told it to me later.

"A few days after you left," he said, "the blue tiger did something I wouldn't have believed possible. It jumped into a cow-pen beside a house, killed a yearling heifer, and leaped out with the dead animal in its mouth. The farmer and his wife saw the whole performance. I measured the fence; it was twelve feet high. My Chinese hunter, Da Da, and I found the remains of the heifer only half eaten about two miles away. The carcass was in a bad place--a very bad place. Four or five trails led to a little open space where the heifer lay in thick jungle and the only way we could see it was by sitting in one of the paths. We didn't dare touch it. I said to Da Da, 'I don't like this at all. You know a tiger always moves along a trail if he can. He might come down this one.' Da Da looked about. 'But, Shen-shung, with all the wide world, and all these other paths, why should he come this way?'

"I still didn't like it, but there was no other spot. We'd been watching about an hour, and the sun was bright, when I thought I heard the low rumble of thunder. Da Da heard it, too, and we both looked at the sky; there wasn't a cloud. Then the rumble came again and this time it ended in a snarl. The blue tiger was right behind us in the grass! I knew he was close enough to spring, too, else he wouldn't have growled. We couldn't see the beast, but I was sure any sudden move would bring him on us. There was just one thing to do; take him by surprise! All tigers are afraid of the human voice--it's about the only thing they are afraid of. I twisted around very, very slowly and the tiger snarled again. I suppose he didn't spring because he was completely taken aback to find us there. Suddenly I yelled and leaped straight at him, but caught my foot in a vine and sprawled on my face, arms outstretched. This, you'll hardly believe, Roy, but it's true;_my left hand actually slapped the tiger on its nose! The beast went right over backward, whirled, and in one jump disappeared in the grass. I never was so scared in my life; I couldn't have fired even if I hadn't dropped the rifle. Da Da and I stood there shaking for a time, and then both of us got awfully sick. We could hardly walk back to the village."

That was the last time either Caldwell or I hunted the blue tiger. After his vacation, he went up the Min River to a mission station at Yenping, and although he returned to Futsing from time to time and killed other tigers, he never saw the blue devil again. But another has recently appeared in the same region. Caldwell returned not long ago to this country and brought with him reports from natives that a giant blue tiger is again terrorizing villagers in the South China hills.

Possible Explanations

There are several possible explanations for blue tigers. One is a colour mutation that produces grey-blue pigment instead of orange pigment. This would produce a greyish background colour, but not affect the pattern. The South China tiger whose range covered Fujian province (near Taiwan) is not known to have produced white tigers, but may have produce other mutations better suited to its habitat. The rangers of the South China tiger and the Amur (Siberian) tiger may once have overlapped, but whatever caused the grey colour in one species seems not have flowed into the other.

A smokey blue pseudomelanistic tiger was born in Oklahoma in the 1960s, the preserved speciment is shown in the section on black tigers.

blue tiger




Textual content is licensed under the GFDL.

For more information on the genetics of colour and pattern:
Robinson's Genetics for Cat Breeders & Veterinarians 4th Ed (the current version)
Genetics for Cat Breeders, 3rd Ed by Roy Robinson (earlier version showing some of the historical misunderstandings)
Cat Genetics by A C Jude (1950s cat genetics text; demonstrates the early confusion that chinchilla was a form of albinism)

For more information on genetics, inheritance and gene pools see:
The Pros and Cons of Inbreeding
The Pros and Cons of Cloning

For more information on anomalous colour and pattern forms in big cats see
Karl Shuker's "Mystery Cats of the World" (Robert Hale: London, 1989 - some of the genetics content is outdated)