One of the most important books in my life has been The Hong Kong Countryside by the late Geoffrey Herklots in which he urged everyone living in the colony who had an interest in nature to keep a nature diary.
Well, I haven't lived in Hong Kong for about 40 years, and I have never kept a regular nature diary, although my various jottings on the subject have been posted on this blog over the past six years. However, at the age of 50 (about 44 years after I first read Herklots' sage advice) I am going to try.
This morning I received an email from Matt Salusbury who wrote:
Came across this Victorian poster on the Natural History Museum library site which appears to be advertising a show with "black tigers." Are there known black tigers, or were they dyed, or deliberately misidentified other melanistic cats, I wonder.
Are there black tigers? Well, possibly. In 1773, while in the service of British East India Company in Kerala, southwest India, artist James Forbes painted a watercolor of a black tiger shot a few months earlier by the soldiers The painting has been lost, but Forbes' description of it survives:
I have also the opportunity of adding the portrait of an extraordinary Tyger [sic], shot a few months ago by the Nairs in this neighborhood, and presented to the chief as a great curiosity. It was entirely black yet striped in the manner of the Royal-Tyger, with shades of a still darker hue, like the richest black, glossed with purple. My pencil is very deficient in displaying these mingled tints; nor do I know how to describe them better than by the difference you would observe in a black cloth variegated with shades of a rich velvet.
Other black tigers across history have probably been melanistic leopards and it is tempting to presume that this is what were advertised in the Wombwells poster that Matt brought to our attention.
The largest amount of black tiger lore that I have been able to find is in Karl Shuker's seminal Mystery Cats of the World (1989) but - sod's law - I can't find my copy at present, which is worrying.
And what about the black dog in the title? That one is firmly on my back as I am presently going through one of my regular bouts of bi-polar instability. I feel as mad as a bagful of cheese at the moment, and am probably being a pain in the are to all who come into contact with me. But it will pass - it always does...
Lisa Hannigan sings Nick Drake's 'Black Eyed Dog', one of the best bi-polar songs ever. I wish I'd written it.