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Foresters spot `mystery cat` in Sunderbans

The Times of India
Kolkata
22 Mar 2012

The deeper you go into the Sunderbans, the more mysterious it is. The camera traps that have snapped 18 Bengal tigers outside the core area of the mangrove forests also captured two photos of a never-before seen cat. It could be another species altogether, a eureka moment for conservationists and wildlife enthusiasts.

Forest officers scanning through a bunch of pictures of the wild stopped in their tracks when they came across a small, black cat with a long tail. Nothing of the sort had been seen in decades of documentation and exploration in the Sunderbans.

The Sunderbans is the only tiger reserve in India where leopards have never been seen. Its Bangladeshi side reported the last sighting of a leopard in 1931.
The cat spotted in the camera traps is bigger than a wild cat and smaller than a leopard, say sources. It`s not yet known whether it`s a new species but forest officials believe it is a melanistic leopard-cat , a rarity in the animal world.

In leopards, two genes determine whether the animal`s colour will be yellow with black spots or completely black. The black panther gets its colour from the black recessive gene.

"We have never seen any animal like this in the Sunderbans . Apart from the 18 tigers, scores of other cats, including jungle and fishing cats, were found during the exercise, which was done outside the reserve area for the first time. Most of them were expected till we came upon two sightings of a black cat with a long tail," said Sunderbans Biosphere Reserve director Pradeep Vyas.