MUTANT BIG CATS - INDIAN TIGERS
THE BOOK OF THE TIGER BY BRIGADIER GENERAL R. G. BURTON, 1933 (EXCERPT)
In the chapter on Protective Coloration, Burton helpfully collates reports of white and black tigers.
The division of the Tiger into local races appears to be a very difficult matter. There is in coloration and in the pattern of stripes so much variation that it is difficult to establish local races on this basis. The animals even of one forest or area present a complete lack of uniformity in these respects, and while an examination of many skins shows that there are some aberrations, such as a paucity of stripes on some parts of the body, it is doubtful whether a regional classification can be based upon any constant or dominant characters of pattern in particular localities. However, the Elburz specimen figured by Mr. R. I. Pocock in his monograph on the species in the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society may represent a local race, if it is not a rufous aberration rather than a typical example from that region. The stripes are a reddish brown, slightly darker than the ground colour. [Footnote: Since this was written, a letter from Mr. H. Sody in Vol. XXXVI of the Journal supports the regional classification of the Tigers of Java, Sumatra, and Bali, based on size, ground colour, and cranial characters. ]
A writer in the Oriental Sporting Magazine for 1833 states that there is certainly a white and he believes a black variety of the Tiger. In recent years white Tigers have been found in increasing numbers in one locality, whether they are true albinos or merely deficient in pigmentation. It would be interesting if a local race of this type were established. There have, however, been white Tigers from other districts. Buchanan Hamilton refers to one shot at Dinajpur ; the skin was sent by the Marquess Wellesley to Sir Joseph Banks. Another albino, figured in Cuvier’s Animal Kingdom^ was pure white with stripes more opaque and visible only at certain angles of reflection. It lived some years in Exeter Exchange [Note: there is no record of such an animal at Exeter Exchange].
A note by the Editors of the Bombay Natural History Society’s Journal points to the remarkable fact that seventeen white Tigers have been shot within the last twenty years, and pertinently asks whether variations are tending to a new race, and whether they breed white, for the white Tigers of Rewa State at the head waters of the Narbada river appear to have bred white for several generations, as the black panthers in Kolhapur Zoological Gardens have bred black for several generations.
Mr. Lydekker wrote in his Game Animals of India that a white Tiger was exhibited at Exeter Exchange about 1820, but its origin is not stated. One was shot in Upper Assam, and the Maharaja of Gooch Behar had two skins. A skin in the possession of a Mr. Considine was described as being of the colour of a polar bear with the faintest lines to indicate stripes, the ground colour being a bright creamy white. This corresponds with the specimen figured by Lydekker and Cuvier. The Indian Forester for May 1909 has a description of a Tigress killed in Orissa, the ground colour pure white and the stripes a deep reddish black. It was in good condition and showed no signs of disease.
Colonel F. T. Pollok, in his book Wild Sports of Burma and Assam, wrote that he saw a magnificent skin of a white Tiger at Edwin Ward’s in Wimpole Street; and Mr. Shadwell, Assistant Commissioner in the Cossyah and Jyntiah Hills, also had two skins quite white. The Natural History Museum, South Kensington, possesses a white skin with tan stripes, and a mounted one from Rewa, with deep chocolate stripes, deposited by His Majesty the King. A small cream-coloured skin, with chocolate brown stripes, fruT rather long and soft in texture, is described in the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society (Vol. XXIV) as having been shot in the Bilaspur District. The whiskers were dark brown and white. In the same Journal (Vol. XXXH), Mr. F. B. Robinson describes and illustrates with a photograph, the shooting of a white Tigress in the district of Bhagalpur. He shot one on the 26th December, 1926, pure white with black stripes on her body and russet brown stripes on the tail. Two others were received by the taxidermist in 1926, both cream-coloured, not albinos, for they had not pink eyes.
But the most interesting record is that of a captive described and figured in the Journal (Vol. XXVII), caught in the jimgles of Rewa near Sohagpur in December 1915, when about two years old. Mr. Janki Persad, Home Member of the State Regency Council, said that there were at the time two more white Tigers in Southern Rewa related to this one, but it was believed that the mother of the animal was not white. Others had been seen or shot in the Maikal range of mountains.
The captive Tiger, examined by Mr. A. E. Scott of the Indian Police on the 3rd December, 1920, was described as pure white, with indistinct or light black stripes, the markings on the face black, but the majority of the stripes ash-coloured owing to the admixture of white hairs. In the hot weather the hair becomes lighter and the stripes take on a brownish tinge. The nose was mottled grey pink, instead of the normal pink. The lips grey-black on the hair line, instead of the normal black, and quickly instead of gradually merging into the pink of the interior mouth. The colouring of the eyes very indistinct; there was no well-defined division between the yellow of the cornea and the blue of the iris. The eyes in some lights practically colourless, merely showing the black pupil on a light yellow background; the eyelids pinkish-black ; ears normal in colour and markings, but the ground black slightly ashy.
This Tiger was under-developed owing to years of captivity, but in height slightly above the normal, and in a wild state would undoubtedly have been an exceptionally large animal. White Tigers have been known for years in the jungles where the Bilaspur and Mandla districts of the Central Provinces join with Rewa State. They seem to run large, which suggests a theory that they are not albinos, but a distinct race. It is suggested that the constant association with one another of two full-grown ones tempts one to believe that they do not interbreed with the ordinary animal ; but the two may be born of the same mother.
If these white Tigers cannot be classed as pure albinos, the latter are very seldom met with, but two were recorded in a letter by Mr. Victor Narayan in the Bombay Natural History Society’s Journal in 1922. A family of man-eaters had for some time been causing damage eighteen miles from Cooch Behar. They were beaten out and shot, and found to consist of a fine Tigress in the prime of life and condition and four cubs; the cubs being killed one day and the old one two days later. A big male panther was shot in the same beat as the cubs, having climbed a tree “evidently in fear of the Tigers.” Two cubs, male and female, were of the normal type in size, colour, and marking, measuring about 6 feet 6 inches in length. Two, also male and female, were albinos 6 feet long and in very bad condition ; they had long necks and pink eyes, and “ trotted along like dogs, while the other two galloped hard.”
While it has been shown that white Tigers are not uncommon, it is somewhat curious that black ones are so rare that their existence has generally been denied. This is especially remarkable in view of the fact that melanism is comparatively common in the panther or leopard and the jaguar ; while the lion, if never found quite black, sometimes occurs in melanistic mutant form, like one described by Sir Henry Layard in Persia, killed by Bakhtiaris in the plains of Ram Hormuz,
Colonel Welsh wrote in his Military Reminiscences in the early part of the last century that in the forests of Travancore “ there are two distinct species of black Tigers, one kind with streaks like a royal monster, the other with spots like a panther, though these distinctions can only be observed in a strong light, so jetty black is the skin. They are diminutive but excessively fierce and strong, not hesitating to attack anything they meet.” This statement is probably founded on native report, and must be rejected, for there has been no confirmation of the presence of black Tigers in the south of India. At the same time it is interesting to observe that in 1905 Captain Capper, Central India Horse, saw what he thought was a black Tiger basking on a rock in Travancore, observing it through his telescope. But size is very deceptive, and shadow often lends a black appearance to objects that are not black. Nor is it merely a question of shade or shadow. Stripes cease to be visible to the naked eye at a comparatively short distance. In sunlight animals of any colour may appear very dark, or even black. So there can be no certainty about this animal, which may have been either an ordinary Tiger or a black panther.
It is recorded in the Observer of 27th January, 1811, that “ a large black Tiger, intended as a present from the King of Java to Bonaparte, taken in the Gude Vrow’ on the passage to France, is now to be seen in Kendrick’s collection of rare foreign beasts and birds, at Number 40, opposite St. James’s Church, Piccadilly.” This was probably a black panther, the word Tiger being often used indiscriminately for both animals even in India, and for the panther in South Africa and the jaguar in Brazil. Black panthers are not uncommon in Java.
In the Bombay Natural History Society’s Journal there is printed a letter from Mr. Hauxwell dated October 1913, from Burma, as follows ; “ Have you ever heard of such a thing as a black Tiger, not leopard ? While up at Kaukkwe in the Bhamo district, I went to the Twins (open grassy spaces in the forest) for Tsine, but on returning about 10 a.m. near the edge of a Twin we heard a grunting at intervals of about ten or fifteen seconds. I insisted that it was a pig wallowing, but my shikari said he thought it was a tsine about to calve. We followed up the sound and then hearing a deep guttural grunt, we knew it was a Tiger. I told the shikari I was off home, and then put up my hand to show him a road out of the Lwin, when from about 10 yards off in front of us a big black mass made two bounds and was away. I let off my .577 at it at about 15 yards range, and I think hit it in the stomach. The animal being quite black, I turned to the shikari and told him it was a pig, while he insisted it was a bear, but on tracking up we found enormous pug marks (they measured 1 foot 8 inches round). After the shot it went on for some 5 or 6 yards, stopped for a moment, and then went on another hundred yards and started growling again. We then left and returned next day, but could not find it. It was evidently hit, as it had torn up a lot of undergrowth and small bushes.” As Mr. T. A. Hauxwell, Conservator of Forests, whose son wrote the letter, added : “ It is a great pity that the animal was not obtained, as even if the remains are found later on, there will probably be no traces of its having been black.” He said that his son had shot several Tigers and knew what a black leopard is. The tracks of that size were certainly those of a Tiger, but whether they were those of the animal he saw, and whether the black appearance was actual or due to deep shade does not appear certain. Moreover, he may have been deceived as was Colonel Pollok, who at dawn one day fired at a “black” Tiger. He took up the tracks when it was lighter, and killed the beast, when he was disappointed to find that it was an ordinary Tiger. It had been rolling in the burnt grass, and looked quite black in the dim light. [Footnote: Fifty Years’ Reminiscences of India. By Colonel Polk. Arnold. 1896. ]
The most authentic record of a black Tiger is contained in a letter written to The Field by Mr. C. T. Buckland, F.Z.S., in 1889. He wrote : “ Before I go hence and am no more seen, I wish to state that I and several others saw a dead black Tiger at Chittagong, and from entries in my diary, which was pretty regularly kept, I know that it was in March 1846. The news was brought into the station that a dead black Tiger was lying near the road that leads to Tipperah, distant about two miles from Chittagong. In the early rnomiug we rode out to see it, but several of the party — Sir H. Ricketts, Mr. Fulwar Skipwith, Captain Swatman, and Captain Hore — are no longer alive, and I cannot produce my eyewitnesses to attest my statement, although several friends to whom I have written recollect that they heard something about it at the time.
“I remember perfectly well that the body of the animal was lying in the low bush-jungle, about twenty yards south of the road, and we dismounted to go and look at it. It was a full-sized Tiger, and the skin was black or very dark brown, so that the stripes showed rather a darker black in the sunlight, just as spots are visible on the skin of a black leopard. The Tiger had been killed by a poisoned arrow, and had wandered away more than a mile from the place where it was wounded before it lay down to die. By the time we arrived the carcass was swollen, the flies were buzzing about it, and decomposition had set in, so that those of our party who knew best decided that the skin could not be saved. I was young and inexperienced, but Captain Swatman, who was in charge of the Government kheddas, and Captain Hore (afterwards Lord Ruthven), of the 25th N.I., were well-known sportsmen, and had each of them killed many Tigers.
No doubt was expressed about the animal being a black Tiger, and I have often mentioned the fact in conversation from time to time. For several weeks before we saw the dead body the natives had reported that there was a black Tiger which infested a range of hills behind the military cantonment at Chittagong. More than once, when the herdsmen brought word that it had killed a cow. Captain Swatman sent an elephant and howdah for me, and we beat through the jungle in vain for it.
“Probably our tactics were bad, as we invariably went right up to the body of the murdered cow, and the Tiger sneaked off, on hearing the noise of the elephants, into the extensive and impenetrable coverts. We did not attach any importance to the native statement that the Tiger was ‘ black ’ as we supposed that the epithet was only a fanciful description of the animal. When, however, we had seen the black skin of the body of the dead Tiger, we concluded the native authorities had not been drawing on their imagination when they used the epithet ‘ black ! ’ ”
While coloration is interesting in itself, its origin or evolution and its uses are of primary importance in a consideration of the life history of an animal. This question is, perhaps, of particular interest in connection with the great carnivora. There can be no doubt that, while coloration has its uses, there is often a tendency, carried to extreme lengths, to exaggerate its protective and obliterative functions. The striping of the Tiger is generally supposed to assist the animal in escaping observation in surroundings, such as long grass, which it frequents. But it does not always frequent long grass, although we must in this respect look rather to its environment in those northern regions where the race is supposed to have its origin, and where coloration was therefore developed. We are generally inclined to regard the Tiger as a resident of Indian and other sub-tropical jungles where, as Sir Samuel Baker wrote, “ the striped skin harmonises in a peculiar manner with dry sticks, yellowish tufts of grass, and the remains of burnt stumps, which are so frequently the family of colours that form the surroundings of the animal.” That is true, but it must be borne in mind that the surroundings vary according to locality and are by no means constant.
Coloration, moreover, is of value only when an animal is at rest. It is of no service to one whose movement betrays it at once, whatever its coloration may be. And, as Selous observed, “ well-known naturalists appear to assume that both carnivorous and herbivorous animals trust entirely to their sense of sight, the former to find their prey and the latter to avoid the approach of enemies.” The Tiger is quick to perceive movement; it does not readily distinguish the nature of immobile objects, and that not merely when their coloration is assimilated to the surroundings ; it will stare at a man with unseeing eyes, even at a comparatively short distance, perhaps twenty to thirty yards, unable to make him out until he moves. No doubt coloration is of value to a beast of prey in a gradual approach up wind, obliterating the animal during the intervals when it remains without movement.
The Tiger, at any rate in hot climates, generally hunts by night, when coloration is of little or no service, although it is inconspicuous, appearing grey in moonlight or crepuscular light. But in northern latitudes, it probably pursues its prey as often by day, as it does at times in the cold weather in India, and it has previously been pointed out that in sunlight many animals appear black or even white, where they are otherwise coloured. The striped zebra looks grey in bright sunlight in bush jungle. Without ascribing too high a significance to the coloration of animals, it is certain that it is of value for purposes of protection or obliteration, and has been an operative cause in evolution.
It must not be forgotten that the stripes appear to bear some relation to anatomical structure, corresponding with the ribs, as the dorsal stripe in some animals corresponds with the vertebral column in which also the pattern of the Tiger has its origin. Professor Beddard [Animal Coloration. Macmillan. 1895] points out that the white marks on the head of the Tiger correspond to the area of distribution of the infra-orbital nerves. The nerves terminate in or near the skin, and disease of the nerves in connection with the muscles for contraction of the skin may cause absence of pigmentation. Perhaps there is some such cause of the coloration of the white specimens.
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