Kolkata: After two mysterious cats were spotted by a camera in the Sundarbans, forest department officials are now tracking the movement of the animal to find out if it is the never-before-seen melanistic leopard cat.
During a camera trapping exercise by WWF-India to estimate the population of tigers in South 24-Parganas forest division, images of two black cats with long tails were found for the first time a few months ago.
SB Mondal, principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF-wildlife), said efforts were on to trace the animal and unfold the mystery.
He told a news agency that they had written to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest seeking permission to trap the feline species for a genetic testing.
"The testing will prove our belief that it is a melanistic leopard cat. It is significant because such a cat has never been reported from any where else in the world," said WWF`s Anurag Danda.
The cat spotted in the camera traps is bigger than a wild cat and smaller than a leopard.
Melanism is the undue development of dark-coloured pigment in the skin which gives black skin in many animals, birds and even fishes. Black panther is the best known example of melanistic cat.
Sunderbans Biosphere Reserve Director Pradeep Vyas said a
melanistic cat has never been sighted before by them anywhere in the reserved forests of Sundarbans spread over an area of 4200 sq km.
Leopards, jungle cats, fishing cats and leopard cats are already known to exist in the mangroves of Sundarbans, criss-crossed by a wide network of rivers and tidal creeks.
After seeing the photographs, WWF officials consulted experts at the Wildlife Institute of India in Dehradun seeking identification of the species.
"We also showed it to other experts and came to the conclusion that it should be a melanistic leopard cat," Danda said.
Bonnie Camp, where the sightings were made, is a popular tourist spot in the Sundarbans, the world`s largest mangrove delta which is home to more than 250 endangered Royal Bengal tigers.
It also harbours a good number of rare and globally threatened animals including Olive Ridley turtles, river terrapins, estuarine crocodiles, Gangetic dolphin, Common otter, etc.