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White tiger’ spotted in the Nilgiris

The Hindu
5 Jul 2017

Curious cat: The tiger, with white coat and dark stripes, which was spotted in the Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve .
Curious cat: The tiger, with white coat and dark stripes, which was spotted in the Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve .

Photographer spots rare member with a pale coat caused by a genetic mutation

A rare ‘white tiger’ with a pale skin color has been spotted for the first time in the Nilgiris by a wildlife photographer, arousing interest among conservationists and forest officials on whether it is a true genetic mutant.

Photographer Nilanjan Ray from Bengaluru spotted the cat at an undisclosed location on a recent trip to the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. A keen wildlife photographer who has covered several national parks, he said the tiger did not seem to be an albino, and was whitish with golden brown patches.

His pictures, reviewed by Parvesh Pandya, a zoologist with Sanctuary Asia and Belinda Wright, a conservationist and film-maker, point to a condition known as “color morphism,” said Mr. Ray on Wednesday.

Scientific literature describes the cause as a genetic mutation among tigers that changes an amino acid responsible for the normal colour being formed, resulting in “natural polymorphism” (occurring in different forms).

Such cats lack pheomelanin, which is responsible for the red-yellow hue in the skin coat. White tigers have been reported predominantly from Rewa, Madhya Pradesh.

“The animal is not an albino or white tiger per se, but they are very rare, and Belinda Wright said she had last seen one in the wild in Ranthambore National Park in the 1980s. She said this one is even paler than the tiger she spotted in Ranthambore,” Mr. Ray said.

The tiger, believed to be a sub-adult, was seen when the photographer was on a road trip through a reserve forest with a guide.
Seen with another cat

“We saw the cat maybe a couple of hundred feet away and it leaped up, onto the hillside when it saw us. We managed to get a few shots when another normal tiger was also nearby. It was then that we could clearly see the difference in coloration between the two animals,” he said.

Forest department officials told The Hindu that they were excited about the event, but did not want to disclose the exact location of the sighting.

Mr. Ray had shared the details and camera traps would be set up in the area.