Wildlife photographer Nilanjan Ray was in for a surprise when he recently visited the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve in southern India with a forest guide. As they passed through, a curious looking “pale tiger” peered out from the forest, allowing Ray to snap these images of the incredibly rare beast.
“It was raining on and off. The rain had stopped for a few minutes, and the sun was about to come out. I was driving, when after a turn, we suddenly saw something that looked like a tiger—this one looked normal— walking on the road, maybe 200 feet away,” Ray writes to us in an about encounter. “After a few second, it ran up the hillside and vanished. We waited for a few minutes to see if the tiger would come back, but it didn't.”
Next, something incredible happened. “As we were slowly driving past that stretch, we saw a white looking tiger sitting on the hillside, half concealed by undergrowth, and looking at us. It looked rather curious—and cute—than scared or aggressive. And then another tiger—a normal, orange one—appeared, much closer to us. We could see its head behind a bush. They could be siblings, or mother and cub—the white one looked like a sub-adult. They played hide and seek with us for a while before vanishing, but not before I had taken some photos.”
Ray sent his images to Sanctuary Asia, the leading wildlife conservation publication in India, and Belinda Wright, an Emmy-award winning tiger expert who is the executive director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India. Both confirmed his findings, marveling at what Wright called “the palest tiger I have ever seen on the record or heard about in literature.”
Zoologist Parvish Pandya commented that the pale coloration is most likely due to a color morphism, a phenomenon due to the mixed genetic pool in the wild. Additionally, the forest department informed Ray that the tiger seemed leucistic, rather than albino. Leucism occurs due to reduced levels of several different pigments, including, but not limited to, melanin.
After Ray's incredible sighting, the forest department has ensured him that they will take the necessary steps to protect this unique animal in the wild. The exact location of the sighting is not being released to the public precisely for this reason, and cameras will be installed to guard against potential poachers.