India’s first hermaphrodite tiger?

Features Saturday, March 21, 2015 - 05:30
Haritha John| November 30, 2014| 3.15 pm IST On April 18, 2014, forest officials were on a routine patrol in the Pambra estate forest in Wayanad district of Kerala when they stumbled upon an injured tiger. The tiger was evidently attacked by other animals and was at the brink of death. At first sight, officials knew something wasn’t right. The officials were unable to save the tiger, but what they saw left them astounded. “Its forelimbs were severely injured and it looked like a case of infighting. We noticed that it had no penis, but had something like testicles. Since we had not seen anything of this kind prior to this incident, we moved the procedures for an autopsy and informed the doctor that something was amiss,” says South Wayanad Divisional Forest Officer P Dhanesh Kumar. Seven months after the discovery, the Forest Department is all set to start a collaborative research on the tiger. So what did they find? During autopsy it was found that the tiger had testicles without any origin of penis, triggering the confusion over its sex. The tiger had no uterus, but it had rudimentary ovaries. Male and female sex organs, both undeveloped, the carcass was what doctors believe to be that of a hermaphrodite tiger or maybe a transsexual one. Hermaphrodites, have reproductive organs normally associated with both male and female sexes. But since both the organs were undeveloped in this tiger, doctors are embarking on a further study. Now the Forest Veterinary laboratory in South Wayanad is trying for collaboration with The National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) Bangalore to begin a new research project on ‘Transexualism in Tigers’. “Though autopsy report proved that the tiger had deformities in sexual orientation, it is necessary to find out the reasons behind it. We had done tests like genotyping, hormonal profiling and histopathology but the results are not yet come,” Dr Arun Sacaria Forest Veterinarian, South Wayanad, told the News Minute.The research will also look into whether the animal was isolated and maybe even later attacked by its pack. “We are planning to collaborate with a couple of wild life research organizations and NCBS to conduct further study. Since this is the first case in India, the findings will be a milestone in the Indian wild life research history,” he added Echoing his views Dr Aniruddha Majumder, Assistant Manager & Technical Officer at Global Tiger Forum Wildlife Trust of India says that the tests on sex chromosome are vital in this case. According to him the reasons can be hormonal or genetic. Genotyping the sample from the tiger will examine the DNA to determine the genetic makeup of the animal and hormonal profiling will help to confirm the dominating hormones in the body. So the researchers are looking forward keenly for the test results. “Though we are been researching on wild life for many years, I have never heard of something like this in tigers before, so the news amazed me, I am sure that it is rarest case in the world of big cats,” says Dr. Majumdar. Since the tiger found in Wayanad had both male and female reproductive organs, it could be a hermaphrodite - an extremely rare condition in vertebrates, he added. Homesexuality and bisexuality in animals have been well documented, researcher and author Bruce Bagemihl had mentioned about homosexual behavior of wild animals in his book Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity in 1999.
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