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Gene behind Similipal Tiger Reserve's melanistic tigers decoded

  • Category
    Environment
  • Published
    22nd Sep, 2021

Context

A group of researchers has discovered the genetic mutation that caused pseudomelanism in a limited number of tigers found only in the fourth largest tiger habitat in the country.

The rare Black Tiger

  • The rare tigers were first officially discovered in STR in 2007. Since then it has been a mystery.
  • These Odisha tigers essentially have stripes that are larger than found in other tigers. 
  • And, these stripes merge among one another, causing the tigers to appear as though they have black-coloured skin.
  • According to the 2018 tiger census, India has an estimated 2,967 tigers. of which 8 are known to be staying within the 2,750 sq km Odisha park, whereas another 12 were using the tiger reserve. 

Key-findings

  • They found the black tigers are mutants and are Bengal tigers with a single base mutation in the gene Transmembrane Aminopeptidase Q (Taqpep).
  • Different mutations in this gene are known to cause similar changes in coat colour in several other species of cats, including cheetahs.
  • The drastic change in patterning and colouring of the black tiger's coat is caused by just one change in the genetic material DNA Alphabet from C (Cytosine) to T (Thymine) in position 1360 of the Taqpep gene sequence.
  • Further genetic analyses and comparisons with a total of 395 captive and wild Indian tiger populations indicates that the mutation in Similipal tigers is very rare.
  • The only other black tigers outside of Similipal in India exist at the 
    • Nandankanan Biological Park, Bhubaneswar
    • Arignar Anna Zoological Park, Chennai
    • Bhagwan Birsa Biological Park, Ranchi
  • Genetic tracing proved that these captive-born tigers shared a common ancestry with Similipal tigers.

Simlipal National Park 

  • Simlipal National Park is a national park and a tiger reserve in the Mayurbhanj district in the Indian state of Odisha 
  • Simplipal was designated a tiger reserve in 1956 and in May 1973 the essential part of the Project Tiger in May 1973.
  • Since 2009, it has been part of the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserve.
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