A photographer has captured an incredible image of a rare "pale wild tiger" living in the forests of India. The beautiful feline is thought to be the only one of its kind in the country, as no others have been reported for decades.
The amazing images of the pale cat were taken by wildlife photographer Nilanjan Ray (who can be found on twitter and online) as he was driving through the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve in southern India. He has agreed with the wildlife authorities to not reveal the exact location of the animal due to the fear of enticing poachers or hunters.
Along with his guide, Ray spotted an ordinary looking tiger walking down the road they were on, about 61 meters (200 feet) in front them, before the car spooked it and it disappeared into the bushes.
“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,” Ray, from Bangalore, told IFLScience. “It looked rather curious and cute, rather than scared or aggressive. And then another tiger – a normal, orange one – appeared, much closer to us.”
As they drew closer, the pale tiger was still visible, allowing Ray to snap a few shots of the incredibly rare animal. The size of the pale feline suggests that it is still a sub-adult. Ray and his guide were unable to get a full view of the normal-colored tiger to discern its age. “They could be siblings, or mother and cub,” suggests Ray.
The pale tiger is neither a true white tiger nor an albino, it is slightly different. It is thought to have a genetic mutation that caused the color morphism, though the exact gene is unknown. The last reported case of anyone seeing a pale tiger in the wild was in the 1980s by Belinda Wright in a completely different part of the country. Wright, the founder of the Wildlife Protection Society of India, told the Guardian that it wasn’t anywhere near as pale as this one.
The last white tiger spotted in the wild was shot in 1958. Since then, no others have been seen, which suggests the recessive allele that gives rise to the coloration is incredible rare within the surviving wild tiger population. It is likely this tiger is the palest wild tiger known to exist.