GUWAHATI, Aug 5 - The discovery of a pack of black jackals � believed to be a new subspecies or melanistic members of an existing species � in a forest of Barpeta district has sent ripples through conservation circles.
Black jackals or for that matter melanistic jackals are unheard of in the country.
A specimen was captured on Friday and is being kept at the Assam State Zoo here. Wildlife experts have not yet been able to identify the animal.
�The animal is slightly injured and is being taken care of. It�s likely to be a melanistic jackal but could also be a new subspecies. Further genetic study is needed to establish its identity,� said zoo vet Bijoy Gogoi, who has hand-reared many orphaned animals, including leopards.
Conservationist David Das, who discovered the animal and captured one with the help of the forest department for proper identification, said that he had been noticing a pack of 14-15 black jackals in the Nakhanda forest for the past four years.
�After some research I realized that black jackals are not found in India. In fact, these are not known to exist anywhere. I suspected it to be a melanistic member of the golden jackal which also inhabits Nakhanda forest. A thorough genetic study by wildlife experts is needed to pinpoint its identity,� he said.
Girindra Adhikary, Divisional Forest Officer, Barpeta, said that it was an exciting find and that the animal was a little bigger than the golden jackal found in the area.
�It�s a bit bigger and is also quite aggressive unlike the golden jackal that also inhabits the same space. It�s a big discovery and together with the endangered river dolphin�s new habitat at Nakhanda, it can be a crowd-puller,� he said.
Melanism is a development of the dark-coloured pigment melanin in the skin or its appendages and is the opposite of albinism. It is mostly found in big cat species when members of the species exhibit what�s called a melanistic colour variation that results in black fur. The term melanistic is mostly applied to the jaguar (Panthera onca) and the leopard (Panthera pardus). In the case of jaguars, the black coat is caused by a dominant allele, while it�s a recessive allele leopards can thank for their black fur.