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Old 6th November 2017, 23:21   #1
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Default The Rare Pale Tiger from Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve

“Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who is the fairest of them all?”

The Rare Pale Tiger from Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve-thepaletiger_environment_small.jpg

"Animal spotted by photographer in jungles of southern India may be the fairest known tiger living outside captivity"
https://www.theguardian.com/world/20...ed-in-the-wild

Discovery of this tiger was covered extensively in international and national media. More coverage below.

International
http://nilanjanray.in/pale-tiger-int...edia-coverage/
National
http://nilanjanray.in/pale-tiger-media-indian/
Science and natural history publications
http://nilanjanray.in/featured-smith...-publications/

Disclaimer: This is a 'censored' writeup, I can't disclose certain details. And not all photos were taken during this trip. The pale fella got a lot of attention, and there were rumors of poacher gangs. So am mixing up photos from a few trips. Some people do know or can guess the location, but I would request them to stay silent.
------------------

I must have visited Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve 50 times over the last few years. This was yet another trip. Had a quick lunch. Finished packing in 15 minutes. Fuel, air checked and filled. Cameras, laptop, mobile etc. were charged in the morning. Took NH209/Kanakpura – Chamrajnagar – Gundlupet route.

Reached the resort around 5.30 pm. It was an overcast day, but there was still a little light, so spent some time enjoying the evening sights and sounds. Sambars came visiting late in the evening.

Spent the next day shooting swallows, and a few mammals. Note: not all photos were taken during that trip. The pale fella got a lot of attention, and there were rumors of poacher gangs. Some people do know or can guess the location, but I would request them to stay silent.

Nights were spent around a campfire. Crackling fire, alarm calls from outside the fence, the cold breeze, woodsmoke. Deers all around, inside the fence. Deers try to stay close to humans when there are predators roaming outside.

After a couple of days, I checked out and started driving to a different place. I was supposed to stay in a forest rest house that day. Plan was to use the FRH as a base, and explore the surrounding country, including a few trails. s. I wasn’t sure what to expect, so stopped at a small shop and bought Maggi, biscuits, candles, matchbox and plenty of water.

The pale tiger peeping out
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Swallow with a catch
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Cheetal behind a tree
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Flying swallow
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Changeable hawk eagle
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Angry tusker
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Bird on a wire
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Running sambar. Digital art from a photo.
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Some random notes (taken on my mobile) from that day.
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Reached the forest rest house driving over broken roads. GPS wasn’t working properly due to tree and cloud cover (and anyway some areas are not plotted properly on Google Maps). Traffic was sparse, but met a local on a bike. He confirmed that I was on the right route. Dense forest and rain, so can’t expect many folks here.

My forest rest house stay - in one of the decent rooms - got cancelled. Some VIPs planning to visit in the evening. Grrrr. A forest official told me to go back. I said I am willing to rough it out, in a tent or anywhere else, if necessary. And that comfort doesn’t matter that much. He thought for a while, and said “OK, we will work out something”. (I eventually had to rough it out in the night, sleeping on a musty old mattress, full of bed bugs. But wasn’t big deal, really).

The grass is full of leeches. Went to admire the drizzle, and stepped onto the grass. Could see the leech army marching towards me in full formation. Beat a hasty retreat. Need to stay away from grass and water as far as possible. How could I forget to get salt or tobacco! Damn.

Forest guide is confirmed. Enthusiastic and intelligent chap.

The FRH has offered me lunch. Have to eat in the kitchen. Dal and rice for lunch, had to tell the cook that I don’t like sambar. Simple food is ok. (I was wet, cold and hungry, so hot food was welcome. Even got some fried papad!)

I have two target species in mind. Hope I encounter them. (Unfortunately, I didn’t see either)

Good that I bought some stuff. Not sure what will happen in the night, so need to be ready to spend the night in my vehicle.

Waited for a while, walking around in the rain, as the guide had lunch and got ready. I had a waterproof windcheater with a hoodie, so preferred to enjoy the weather instead of staying inside.

The road was broken and slushy. And it was raining hard. After a while it became a drizzle. Went on a few tracks, had to use 4HL and 4LL in some places. There were many broken trees and branches blocking the trails.

The rain has stopped for a few minutes. Great!

(I turn a corner) What is that?!! Looks like a tiger!!! Urgh, it ran away before I could raise the camera!

I drive forward very slowly, and then stop the engine.

Wow! The tiger is peeping at us from time to time. But it looks rather different! Wish it would come out in the open and give me a clear shot. (I had to wait for a few minutes to get a clear view for a couple of seconds. This went on for a while. Had to change the AF settings on my camera to deal with the undergrowth.)

There is another tiger! And the second tiger is quite aggressive. Sibling or mom? It wants to shoo us away. It has started snarling. I can see the top half of its face from time to time. Now it is making mock charges. Best to move away. These tigers are not used to humans, let’s not stay where we are unwanted.

(I moved 500m away, and was hoping that the tigers would come down on the road. But they didn’t oblige. They went cross country through dense forest and vanished).

Wow, that seems like a monster gaur! I need to switch off the engine, come down of the car carefully, and go slowly towards it, on my knees. Hope it doesn’t run away or charge. If it charges, I won’t have time to rise and run back to the vehicle. There are a few bushes I can use for cover, to stalk. Damn the rain! My camera viewfinder is getting wet, and I hope my camera gear stays ok. Good boy, stay right there! I mean no harm, I am a puny human in front of His Royal Gaurness.

Have run out of cash and liquid refreshments. Have to drive 10+ km in the rain, in the evening, to pick up both. Oh well. Feeling a little tired, but can’t be helped.

Too many bedbugs! Let’s hope no creepy crawlies would come visiting during the night.

The loo is outside. Need to check carefully with my torch, making a 270 degree arc, before starting to walk towards it. It is past midnight, and it is still drizzling.
--

Pale tiger's companion
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Dark forest
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Wild tusker in musth. See the discharge from the gland. ISO 6400 shot.
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Bulbul in golden light
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Warrior
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Face to face
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Sambar
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Swallow, B&W
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Sharing the actual shooting experience. Had written this for a Nikon India “Behind The Lens” feature article
--
It was during a recent roadtrip to Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve (NBR), a favourite haunt of mine, that I encountered and photographed a rare tiger, which could be the palest in the wild, as per experts.

It was a gloomy, drizzling afternoon when I decided to go for a drive with a forest guide. We were driving on a lonely forest road, when after a turn, we saw a tiger walking on the road, 200+ feet away. After a few seconds it ran up the hillside and vanished. We waited for a few minutes, but the tiger didn’t reappear. As we slowly drove past that stretch, I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was this very pale tiger, sitting on the hillside, half concealed by undergrowth, and peeping at us. It looked like a semi-adult. Photographing this big cat wasn’t easy - I had to wait for minutes to get a clear shot at its face for 2-3 seconds; light was rapidly changing; and the tiger kept on moving, always behind bushes. Anyway, I adjusted camera (AF, metering) settings, and waited for a clear view. And then another (orange) tiger appeared. They played hide and seek with us for a few more minutes, before vanishing. While all this was happening, a tiny part of my brain was telling me that I had encountered something special, but since I was totally focused on trying to get some shots, it was later that the implications sunk in.

The tiger was extremely pale, with a golden-brown tinge. I have read extensively about tigers, and taken thousands of photos in various national parks, but I am not an expert regarding genetic mutations and leucism or albinism. To get expert opinion, I sent RAW and JPEG images to Sanctuary Asia and Belinda Wright, tiger conservationist and Emmy Award winning wildlife filmmaker who worked with National Geographic for many years. Belinda said that this was the palest wild tiger she had seen in India, and Sanctuary Asia opined that the pale colour was due to morphism. NBR is home to approximately 570 tigers, and has the world’s largest wild tiger population. Contiguous forest patches in NBR allow for good intermixing of genes, and random genetic mutations could occur naturally in such large populations, leading to such a rare, pale colour.

After this serendipitous encounter, I informed the forest department, and told them about the exact location, which remains classified because of crowding and poaching threats. The forest department has been taking necessary steps to monitor and protect this big cat.

India is home to 70 percent of tigers in the world, with 2014 census figures estimating a wild population of 2,226. While the decline in the number of tigers has been reversed, tiger habitat is under increasing threat, and shrinking. I hope that discovery of this rare tiger can inspire people to appreciate wildlife, support conservation, and develop a sense of wonder about the hidden jewels of nature. I also hope that this encourages my friends and acquaintances to take up photography more seriously.
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Gaur
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Leopard. Evening shot.
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Muniascape
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Reaching out
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Gaur portrait, B&W
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The next day, I had to vacate the FRH (more VIPs were expected), and stayed in another resort, in the middle of wilderness. That place was on a hill, so it had decent mobile and 3G signal. In the evening, I drove down and met a few friends. They said that there were no documented records of a pale or whitish tiger being seen in the Nilgiris (they would know, they have stayed there for half a century, and knew all the old hunters and conservationists and forest folks).

Anyway, I shared a few photos on Facebook. That created a storm, with some people accusing me of Photoshopping an orange tiger into white, or having shot the tiger in a zoo. There is ridiculous jealousy among wildlife photographers, especially the ones who think that they have seen it all nd done it all :-)

Eventually the photos were validated by experts. Talked to many international and national media folks, and gave away the low res photo for free. I didn’t want to charge for sharing photos of such an interesting and rare creature, seen in the wild after decades.

Since then, I have done a few more trips to Nilgiris, sharing some of the photos. No more black swan sightings. Not even the tail of a pale tiger or a black panther (though I did see a tigress and a leopard during another trip. But the tigress was barely visible through the bushes. And the leopard encounter was in the evening, in horrible light.

Update regarding the pale tiger: the forest department told me that camera traps have been put up, and they have taken adequate steps to monitor and protect the tiger.

Let me end by reiterating a few things I stated earlier:
1. There are many hidden jewels in nature. That need to be appreciated, and saved.
2. Who knows what is waiting across the corner, especially when one is traveling in a less visited area?
3. It will be good if we encourage our family and friends to develop an appreciation for nature.
4. A tough 4x4 helps. I wouldn't have met this tiger without my trusty Bison :-)

Last edited by GTO : 7th November 2017 at 10:42. Reason: Removing italics for the large para - thanks for sharing man!
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Old 7th November 2017, 12:05   #2
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Default Re: The Rare Pale Tiger from Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve

Awesome. Though did not expect a thread since you had earlier indicated here that you would like to keep the location a secret. Thanks for sharing the experience.

And it is only apt that it was you who got to see the pale tiger, considering your innumerable visits to NBR and your love of these forests

Guess a sleeping bag would have come handy in the above FRH situation

Last edited by mallumowgli : 7th November 2017 at 12:06.
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Old 7th November 2017, 13:39   #3
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Default Re: The Rare Pale Tiger from Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve

Thanks for sharing. What a majestic animal.
Hope this brings in renewed interest in conserving the tigers and help in increasing their dwindling numbers.
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Old 7th November 2017, 15:30   #4
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Default Re: The Rare Pale Tiger from Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve

Quote:
Originally Posted by mallumowgli View Post
Awesome. Though did not expect a thread since you had earlier indicated here that you would like to keep the location a secret. Thanks for sharing the experience.

And it is only apt that it was you who got to see the pale tiger, considering your innumerable visits to NBR and your love of these forests

Guess a sleeping bag would have come handy in the above FRH situation
I used to have a sleeping bag, mattress and bed sheet in the boot. Not sure why I didn't bother putting them back after the last service.


Quote:
Originally Posted by speedmiester View Post
Thanks for sharing. What a majestic animal.
Hope this brings in renewed interest in conserving the tigers and help in increasing their dwindling numbers.
The number of tigers is increasing, India has done a tremendous job in spite of everything. There is a greater challenge regarding forest cover, which is rapidly dwindling. Less forest, less prey, more displacement, more human/tiger conflict.

Playing hide and seek
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Last edited by nilanjanray : 7th November 2017 at 15:33.
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Old 7th November 2017, 16:10   #5
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Default Re: The Rare Pale Tiger from Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve

Dear Nilanjan,

What an excellent capture, must have been an exhilarating experience.
I first saw the image in Sanctuary and saw your name and the mind went (Ting) and of course then in the coming days it was discussed in detail online.

It is so reassuring to even read about such places which do exist even today where these majestic beings can live in peace. Lucky you to be able to access these places.

I totally agree on the jealousy part - for what reason no one can tell.
I had a similar J experience in June, I had clicked a pic of a tiger with an injury on the face and the resort owner who also is an avid photographer told me that the DFO needed a close-up of the injury to see if the tiger was alright. I shared most willingly for the sake of the tiger only asking to be at least copied on the communication - but none of that happened. Nothing compared to your experience but still.

Anyways coming back to NBR, if we keep the tiger hidden for a while, the Gaur image gave me a chill, you were outside the vehicle , boy that must have been something. That is a mammoth of a gaur and his bruteness is definitely aware that a homo sapien sapien with a camera is the least of his worries in todays world at least.

Looking forward for more.

Cheers!
Trojan
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Old 7th November 2017, 17:18   #6
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Default Re: The Rare Pale Tiger from Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve

Quote:
Originally Posted by Trojan View Post
Dear Nilanjan,

What an excellent capture, must have been an exhilarating experience.
I first saw the image in Sanctuary and saw your name and the mind went (Ting) and of course then in the coming days it was discussed in detail online.

It is so reassuring to even read about such places which do exist even today where these majestic beings can live in peace. Lucky you to be able to access these places.

I totally agree on the jealousy part - for what reason no one can tell.
I had a similar J experience in June, I had clicked a pic of a tiger with an injury on the face and the resort owner who also is an avid photographer told me that the DFO needed a close-up of the injury to see if the tiger was alright. I shared most willingly for the sake of the tiger only asking to be at least copied on the communication - but none of that happened. Nothing compared to your experience but still.

Anyways coming back to NBR, if we keep the tiger hidden for a while, the Gaur image gave me a chill, you were outside the vehicle , boy that must have been something. That is a mammoth of a gaur and his bruteness is definitely aware that a homo sapien sapien with a camera is the least of his worries in todays world at least.

Looking forward for more.

Cheers!
Trojan
Thanks. An acknowledgement - and copying you on the message - was surely called for. Maybe it went through a Whatsapp message.

I have been doing lots of monochrome stuff, this is another one of the gaur.

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Old 7th November 2017, 17:52   #7
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Default Re: The Rare Pale Tiger from Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve

Nilanjan, good to read the wildlife experience story direct from yourself.

Remember reading it on The Hindu, some 4-5 months back, and with your name mentioned. The frowning curious face of the tiger do stand out too!
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Old 7th November 2017, 19:10   #8
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Default Re: The Rare Pale Tiger from Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve

Simply stunning picture and what a rare find indeed. Thanks for sharing.

Though I'm not on ground, a few of my buddies work to support the Tiger conservation in the belt.
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Old 7th November 2017, 22:39   #9
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Default Re: The Rare Pale Tiger from Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve

Nilanjan, Truly inspiring.
I am not a wildlife photography guy but now your post has induced an itch to explore that.
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Old 8th November 2017, 01:37   #10
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Default Re: The Rare Pale Tiger from Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve

What a great privilege it would have been to watch this beauty in person..!

I saw this photo in a tamil news channel which said it was "Nilanjan" from bengaluru.

I quickly came to team BHP (as i knew it would be you) and was literally waiting for this thread every single day !

Great shots and Thanks a lot for sharing this ..!
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Old 8th November 2017, 09:42   #11
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Default Re: The Rare Pale Tiger from Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve

Quote:
Originally Posted by adc View Post
Nilanjan, good to read the wildlife experience story direct from yourself.

Remember reading it on The Hindu, some 4-5 months back, and with your name mentioned. The frowning curious face of the tiger do stand out too!
Thanks adc. Hindu was one of the initial Indian publications to break the news.

Quote:
Originally Posted by kraft.wagen View Post
Simply stunning picture and what a rare find indeed. Thanks for sharing.

Though I'm not on ground, a few of my buddies work to support the Tiger conservation in the belt.
Thank you.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Thermodynamics View Post
Nilanjan, Truly inspiring.
I am not a wildlife photography guy but now your post has induced an itch to explore that.
Wildlife photography can be an addiction :-)

Quote:
Originally Posted by RJ411 View Post
What a great privilege it would have been to watch this beauty in person..!

I saw this photo in a tamil news channel which said it was "Nilanjan" from bengaluru.

I quickly came to team BHP (as i knew it would be you) and was literally waiting for this thread every single day !

Great shots and Thanks a lot for sharing this ..!
Thanks! Actually, I was too busy trying to get off a shot or two, the implications sank in later.

A couple of more monochromes from NBR

Wild tusker
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Deer and fawn
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Old 8th November 2017, 10:57   #12
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Default Re: The Rare Pale Tiger from Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve

Quote:
Originally Posted by nilanjanray View Post
The number of tigers is increasing, India has done a tremendous job in spite of everything. There is a greater challenge regarding forest cover, which is rapidly dwindling. Less forest, less prey, more displacement, more human/tiger conflict.
May the numbers increase even more. Your effort in capturing this amazing animal will also help further. Kudos to you.
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Old 8th November 2017, 11:02   #13
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Default Re: The Rare Pale Tiger from Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve

Wow Wow Wow!!

What a jewel you have discovered. Truly majestic!!

Have long been a fan of your threads and you always manage to take us away into your mesmerizing world of the wild. I completely forget the worldly worries atleast for couple of hours every time I go through a thread of yours.

Kudos to your efforts taking all the pain while clicking these beauties and in penning these stories to that real perfection.

I am itching since long to get that dream MKII. So long that now MKIV is here. Someday for sure!

Thanks again for sharing!! A big bow!
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Old 8th November 2017, 12:19   #14
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Default Re: The Rare Pale Tiger from Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve

Stunning pictures, Nilanjan! I just sat mesmerised by this post. The majesty of these wonderful animals conveyed in your captures is truly awe-inspiring. Hope to emulate these pictures in the future, more power to you, Sir!
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Old 8th November 2017, 12:53   #15
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Default Re: The Rare Pale Tiger from Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve

Nilanjan , fantastic as always, proud to have you a fellow member. Actually the tiger was looking cute and not any way ferocious.
I really liked the shot of the tusker in masth, how far were you from him during the shot. Hats off to on your courage.
Nilgiris is also my favourite destinations and am a regular at coonoor but have not really made it to the wild side except once when I had stayed at Red hills.
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