The Maltese tiger, or blue tiger, is a feline monster similar to the tiger, reportedly living in the Fujian Province of China.
The term Maltese comes from domestic cat terminology for blue fur, and refers to the slate grey coloration. Many cats with such colouration are present in Malta, which may have given rise to the use of the adjective in this context; however the tigers have nothing to do with the island.
The Maltese tiger was described as having a bluish-grey base colour which changed to deep blue on the undersides and stripes similar to those of a normal orange tiger.
It has long been believed that it is honorable to be killed by a Maltese Tiger. Local tribes would sacrifice themselves to these tigers because they believe they would be reincarnated as one. Richard Perry, in his book "The World Of The Tiger" reiterated that China's blue tigers were called blue devils because they were so often man eaters.
Most of the Maltese tigers reported have been of the South Chinese subspecies. The South Chinese tiger today is critically endangered, and the "blue" alleles may be wholly extinct. However, "blue" tigers have also been reported from Korea, home of Amur tigers.
History of sightings
There had been sporadic sightings of blue tigers in the Fujian Province of China since the early 1900s.
In 1910, while in south-eastern China American Methodist missionary and renowned tiger hunter Harry R. Caldwell described a tiger coloured deep shades of blue and grey-blue. Caldwell, an experienced hunter and reliable eye-witness, wrote: "I glanced at the object, which appeared to be a man dressed in the conventional light blue garment and crouching. I simply whispered to the cook 'Man,' and again turned my attention to watching the goat. Again the cook tugged my elbow, saying 'Tiger, surely a tiger,' and I once more looked. Now focussing on what I had altogether overlooked in my previous hurried glances, I saw the huge head of the tiger above the blue which had appeared to me to be the clothes of a man. What I had been looking at was the chest and belly of the beast." Caldwell attempted to shoot the tiger, but noticed two boys collecting plants nearby so he moved to a safer location from the shot. Unfortunately, the tiger disappeared. He wrote about the blue tiger in his book "Blue Tiger" in 1925 and noted that other sightings had been reported in the region.
On several occasions John noted seeing maltese colored hairs along the mountain trails they were searching, but he did not catch sight of a live blue tiger. Another account of the same hunt is contained in "A Narrative Of Exploration, Adventure, And Sport In Little-Known China" written by his hunting companion, Roy Chapman Andrews (Associate Curator Of Mammals In The American Museum Of Natural History And Leader Of The Museum's Asiatic Zoölogical Expedition Of 1916-1917) and Yvette Borup Andrews (Photographer Of The Asiatic Zoölogical Expedition) published in 1918.
Another report, given to Mystery Cats of the World author Dr Karl Shuker, comes from the son of a US Army soldier who served in Korea during the Korean War. His father sighted a blue tiger in the mountains near what is now the Demilitarized Zone. Blue tigers have also been reported from Burma.
More recently, there have been occasional reports of blue tigers in a mountainous region on the border between North and South Korea. Because North Korea does not welcome outsiders, it is not currently possible to investigate sightings. There are no blue tigers in captivity today - if there were, the recessive gene would make it easy to fix the trait. If a smokey blue tiger was born in the Woodland Park Zoo, this would be the only captive blue tiger.
Theories about origin and existence
Slate-coloured tigers may represent a montane population of tigers where the colour has become fixed in a small, isolated and inbred population. Caldwell's hunting expedition indicates that blue tigers, if they are a separate race, prefer inaccessible regions where they are less likely to be encountered by humans.
Is it possible that blue tigers are due to a manifestation of the chinchilla gene known as "shaded silver". The Amur tiger is found in north eastern China and northern North Korea and Siberia and has produced white tigers. The South China tiger whose range covers Fujian province (near Taiwan) has not produced white tigers though the historic ranges of the Amur and South China tigers may have overlapped resulting in inter-breeding. The South China tiger is supposedly the "stem species", from which all other tigers evolved so it is just about possible that the chinchilla mutation occurred in the South China tiger where it causes the bluish shaded colour morph and has been inherited by its descendent species where it has combined with other genes to produce white tigers.
A smokey blue hypermelanic tiger cub was born in the Oklahoma Zoo in 1964 to ordinary Bengal tiger parents. It died in infancy and is preserved as a wet specimen. There are no blue tigers in zoos or private collections, and no known blue tiger pelts.
The black tiger was also long considered mythical, but several pelts have proven that pseudo-melanistic or hypermelanic tigers do exist. They are not wholly black, but have dense, wide stripes that partially obscure the orange background colour. The hypermelanic tiger cub born in captivity at Oklahoma City Zoo had a smokey hue between some of the stripes.
- Caldwell, Harry R (1924). Blue Tiger. Abingdon Press.
- Chapman Andrews, Roy (1925). Camps & Trails in China: A Narrative of Exploration, Adventure, and Sport in Little-Known China. Appleton. HTML fulltext at Project Gutenberg
- Shuker, Karl P N (1989). Mystery Cats of the World: From Blue Tigers To Exmoor Beasts. Robert Hale. ISBN 0-7090-3706-6.