The oddities of the natural world have always sparked the human imagination. While melanistic animals have been the talk of the town for the past few years, no doubt due to the frequent sightings of black panthers in the forests of south India, we’re turning our eyes to the colourless.
A flash of ivory. A ghostly apparition. Spotting an albino or leucistic animal in the wild is a rare wonder. These two conditions that render animals pale, arise from complete or partial lack of pigments in the body. In the former, the absent pigment is melanin, in the latter, it is a combination of missing pigments that characterise the condition.
While leucistic and albino animals are certainly appealing to the eye, they are also at an evolutionary disadvantage, and the majority of such animals may never survive to adulthood. In prey animals, their stark appearance makes them an easy target, while in predators, the condition robs them of the element of surprise. The distinct red or pink eyes of albino animals come with another drawback, the lack of melanin in the iris can effect the animal’s depth perception. The role of melanin goes beyond colour attribution; it also dissipates most of the absorbed ultraviolet radiation. Thus, animals lacking the pigment are prone to radiation-induced skin damage.
This is our ode to the alabaster survivors of the wild world.
Its ‘normal’ counterparts enjoy superb camouflage, but without it, this leucistic Malabar giant squirrel foraging on a tree is conspicuous to predators that include raptors and leopards. Should it find a mate, the chances of nest survival also drop due to its very obvious presence.
Photo: Vishwatej Pawar.
Location: Satara, Maharashtra
Camera: Canon EOS 60D, Lens: Sigma 150-500 mm. f/5-6.3 OS, Shutter speed: 1/320 sec., Aperture: f/5.6, ISO 800, Focal length: 229 mm. Image taken: April 01, 2015; 08:28 a.m.
Its distinctive red eyes and pearly appearance, place this wolf snake firmly on the side of complete albinism. A very rare sight, as in snakes, leucism and partial albinism are more common. Such an animal rarely reaches maturity. If not hunted, UV exposure while basking will do it in.
Photo: Ravi Suresh Lohire.
Location: Aundh, Pune, Maharashtra
Camera: Canon EOS 550D, Lens: Canon EF-S 55-250 mm. f/4-5.6 IS, Shutter speed: 1/100 sec., Aperture: f/5.6, ISO 200, Focal length: 250 mm. Image taken: November 10, 2013; 5:59 p.m.
Strength in unity! The cooperation of herd members and good parental care along with the absence of large predators is what probably gave this female albino blackbuck the chance to reach maturity. However, in this grassland habitat, constant exposure to UV radiation from the sun remains a concern.
Photo: Ajay Parmar.
Location: Velavadar Blackbuck National Park, Gujarat
Camera: Canon EOS 7D, Lens: Canon EF 100-400 mm. f/4.5-5.6L IS USM, Shutter speed: 1/80 sec., Aperture: f/5.6, ISO 400, Focal length: 400 mm. Image taken: January 08, 2016; 7:31 a.m.
Without its black and grey markings, this albino palm civet could be mistaken for a tiny spirit bear! This species is either crepuscular or nocturnal, which must make staying discreet exceedingly difficult for this ivory individual.
Photo: Ayan Banerjee.
Location: Kuldiha Wildlife Sanctuary, Odisha
Camera: Canon EOS Kiss X4, Lens: Canon EF 400 mm. f/5.6L USM, Shutter speed: 1/25 sec., Aperture: f/5.6, ISO 3200, Focal length: 400 mm. Image taken: December 28, 2013; 5:13 p.m.
The loud green hues that are so typical of parakeets are completely missing from this Rose-ringed Parakeet. In the bird world where colours are near-always important to mating success, one wonders how this one will fare.
Photo: Vijayendra Desai.
Location: Surat, Gujarat
Camera: Canon EOS 550D, Lens: Sigma 150-500 mm., Shutter speed: 1/800 sec., Aperture: f/8, ISO 800, Focal length: 500 mm. Image taken: March 05, 2014; 7:58 a.m.
The flashy hues that are so typical of kingfishers are completely missing from this White-throated Kingfisher. In the bird world where colours are near-always important to mating success, one wonders how this one will fare.
Photo: Sachiien R. Dhopade.
Location: Mangao, Raigad, Maharashtra
Camera: Nikon D3200, Lens: Tamron 150-600 mm. f/5.0-6.3, Shutter speed: 1/125 sec., Aperture: f/8.0, ISO 200, Focal length: 400 mm. Image taken: July 19, 2015; 9:26 a.m.
Waders, like these Godwits, sport drab colours to blend into the mudflats on which they feed. This leucistic Godwit paints a pretty picture, standing out from its feathered kin. For a bird of prey, say a harrier, it unfortunately becomes an easy target.
Photo: Panchami Manoo Ukil.
Location: Mangalajodi wetland, Odisha
Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Lens: Canon EF 500 mm. f/5L IS II USM + 1.4x III Extender, Shutter speed: 1/5000 sec., Aperture: f/5.6, ISO 400, Focal length: 700 mm. Image taken: November 18, 2014; 10:09 a.m.
Native to the Indian subcontinent, southern China and Southeast Asia, the sambar’s shaggy coat can vary from yellowish-brown to dark grey. Here a young albino stands out against the verdant green forest of the Bandipur Tiger Reserve.
Photo: S.P. Bharath Kumar.
Location: Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka
Camera: Canon EOS 600D Lens: Tamron 70-300 mm., Shutter speed: 1/160 sec., Aperture: f/5.6, ISO 200, Focal length: 300 mm. Image taken: October 12, 2014; 4:18 p.m.
First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXVI No. 8, August 2016.