An amateur photographer was lucky enough to capture on camera one of Odisha's ultra rare black tigers. Soumen Bajpayee was at the Nandankanan Sanctuary last year when he spotted the melanistic tiger, which is on the verge of extinction.
The melanistic tiger - a rare gene pool on which the black stripes are far more prominent than the Royal Bengal Tiger's - are found only in Odisha. Their numbers are sliding fast, and only a handful of these 'black tigers' remain today.
Mr Bajpayee, a native of Panskura in West Bengal, was bird watching at Nandankanan in February last year when the melanistic tiger appeared. He initially did not even realise he was looking at a tiger.
"While I was watching various birds and monkeys in the trees, I suddenly saw something which looked like a tiger but not like the usual tiger," Mr Bajpayee tells NDTV. "Back then I didn't have any idea about melanistic tigers. It suddenly it appeared from the woods, stayed for few seconds and walked back into the trees."
The 27-year-old quickly whipped out his digital camera and managed to snap a few pictures of the black tiger.
"I have seen many tigers before - both in the wild and in captivity - but this was a completely different one," he says.
Photos of the black tiger are currently going viral on social media after surfacing on Instagram.
Speaking about the melanistic tigers of Nandankanan, Mr Bajpayee says: "There is story behind melanistic tigers in Nandankanan.
"In 1993, the presence of melanistic tigers was reported for the first time in Simlipal Tiger Reserve in Odisha, and then again in 2007.
"After that, a few years later in Nandankan Sanctuary, one tigress gave birth to four cubs. Out of them, two were melanistic.
"Those two cubs were immediately taken care of and their growth was monitored through CCTV. After one year they were brought into open.
"Nadankanan is built within the forest itself. That's why the tiger was brought up in a natural environment and it roams in its natural environment."
Nandankanan Zoological Park was established in 1960 and opened to public in 1979. A part of it has been declared a sanctuary.
"I was able to see only one tiger and don't have any idea about the other melanistic tiger," he says.
"Nandankan is the first sanctuary to show melanistic tiger, but there is no guarantee you can see it because in Nadankanan they roam in their natural environment and the numbers are just one or two. I was extremely grateful to see it myself even though it was for few seconds," Mr Bajpayee adds.
Data collected from camera traps indicates that only six to seven melanistic tigers remain in India today. They are found only in Odisha.Click for more trending news