The Nandankanan zoo in Bhubaneswar has welcomed the birth of four cubs to five-year-old white tigress Sneha.
What’s more, one of the cubs appears melanistic. This is a relatively rare phenomenon. Melanitsic tigers are popularly called black tigers. They have higher dark-coloured pigmentation in their skin.
“Black tigers are usually spotted in Similipal sanctuary (in Mayurbhanj district). But the birth of a black tiger cub at Nandankanan zoo is a rare phenomenon as no other zoo in India has a black tiger,” Odisha principal chief conservator of forests SS Srivastava said.
Camera traps at Similipal Tiger Reserve in the state had captured pictures of a melanistic adult cat in 2013.
The litter was born on Sunday night. This is the first batch of cubs at the zoo in the Odisha capital after January 2012, when tigress Sara had given birth to three cubs, all of whom were kept off-exhibit and under CCTV surveillance to prevent human imprinting.
Experts advise against human imprinting, which refers to people getting too close to newborn animals. Such undesired human proximity may lead mothers to desert cubs.
Elephants are known to behave similarly with their calves if they have spent too much time with human beings
The current litter too has been put under CCTV surveillance. Sneha is a first-time mother. She had mated with a normal Royal Bengal Tiger, Manish.
According to experts, a larger litter is difficult to manage for first-time mothers. In 2011, five cubs born in a batch at the zoo died.
The birth of the cubs — two days before International Tiger Day — is welcome news for wildlife lovers and conservationists because the last two years have not been kind to the big cats in the wild. This year, 41 tigers have died in India. In 2013, 80 had died. Most fell to poaching.
India is estimated to have 1,706 tigers, nearly 43% of the big cat population worldwide.
For Nandankanan authorities, the birth of the cubs is a joyous occasion even as they keep a close watch on their well-being. The total number of tigers in the zoo has reached 27 with the arrival of the cubs.
The birth of the melanistic cub has reminded authorities of a similar rare occurrence 34 years ago.
In 1980, a yellow and black striped tigress, Ganga, had given birth to three white cubs. Her mate, Deepak, was also yellow and black striped.
Sneha with her cubs. (Pictures from CCTV provided by Nandankanan authorities)