WHITER SHADES OF PALE
A white wallaby, a leucistic lion cub, a pigment-challenged peacock and more...
Last year, a pair of rare white reticulated giraffes, a mother and child, were spotted in the Ishaqbini Hirola Conservancy in Kenya’s Garissa county, and caught on video. The area is managed by the Hirola Conservation Programme (HCP), an NGO dedicated to preserving the critically endangered hirola antelope, one of the rarest in the world. The HCP wrote in a blog post that a local villager first reported the giraffes to rangers in June 2017. “They were so close and extremely calm and seemed not disturbed by our presence. The mother kept pacing back and forth a few yards in front of us while signalling the baby giraffe to hide behind the bushes.”
The giraffes suffer from a genetic condition called leucism, which inhibits pigmentation in the animal’s skin cells. Unlike albinism, animals with leucism continue to produce dark pigment in their soft tissue, which explains why they have dark eyes and other colouring. (Animals with albinism usually have red or pink eyes.) Leucism occurs across the animal kingdom: birds, lions, fish, peacocks, penguins, eagles, hippos, moose and snakes have all displayed the trait.
According to the HCP, this most recent footage is only the third known sighting of a white giraffe. One was reported in the same Ishaqbini conservancy in March 2016, while in Tanzania, a white Masai giraffe calf called Omo was observed in Tarangire national park in January 2016. Reticulated giraffes are listed as ‘vulnerable’, with an estimated 8,500 individuals living in the wild in Somalia, southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya.
Besides having pale skin because of leucism or albinism, animals can have a third condition, called isabellinism, that leaves them looking greyish-yellow or the colour of parchment. A dubious legend has it that this colour is named after the Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia of Spain, who supposedly vowed not to remove or wash her shift until her husband, Archduke Albert of Austria, had conquered Ostend. Since the siege of the city lasted over three years (July 1601–Sept 1604), it is claimed that the discoloration of her shift led to the naming of the colour. As, however, ‘isabella’ (the English name of a colour) awkwardly predates the siege, a variation of the legend refers to Isabella I of Castile and the eight-month siege of Granada by Ferdinand II of Aragon, starting in April 1491. NY Times (int. edition), Guardian, 15 Sept 2017.
PRIDE OF THE ZOO
A four-month-old white lion is the pride of Altiplano Zoo in Mexico, and was shown to the public on 19 January. White lions
This footage is only the third known sighting of a white giraffe
are critically endangered and there are believed to be fewer than 300 in the world. They are endemic to just one location – the Greater Timbavati region in South Africa – which is full of pale sandy riverbeds and lightcoloured long grass, ideal for camouflage. In 2004, we reported on four white lions in a safari park in Bewdley, Worcestershire [ FT185:14]. (Sydney) D.Telegraph, 20 Jan 2018.
On 7 January 2018, a rare white stag, a member of the red deer species, was seen roaming the Cairngorms National Park in the Scottish Highlands, in a herd of about 200 red deer. The witnesses were a group of men on Damien Zoyo’s stag do, including Marc Brunelle, who took photos. This is probably the first time such an animal has been spotted in the wild in recent years. “It’s definitely a white red stag,” said Charles Smith-Jones of the British Deer Society. “This is very unusual. In some cultures [for instance the ancient Celts] they are seen as messengers of the gods so they’re left well alone.” Such an animal is said to bring good luck to those who see it – although it has also been called the ‘Judas deer’ because its bright colour gives the herd away to hunters. The white appearance is usually caused by leucism, while a small number of deer are albinos. The stag party hoped the sighting was a good omen for Mr Zoyo’s wedding to Caroline Aulen. D.Mail, 29 Jan; Metro, 30 Jan 2018. For a white stag in the Highlands in 2008, see FT236:25.
For the last three years, local Swedish politician Hans Nilsson had often attempted to film a white bull moose inVarmland, Sweden. In August 2017 he finally caught stunning footage of the moose crossing a shallow river and walking through tall grass. Though not albino, it appears to be entirely white, with soft white velvet coating even its antlers. In late June, two white moose twins were captured on camera in Norway. The footage wasn’t clear enough to determine whether they were albino or piebald (white with specks of brown). Some speculate that the number of these ghostly animals in Scandinavia is increasing. National Geographic, 14 Aug; <i> 15 Aug; Daily Astorian (Astoria, Oregon), 18 Aug 2017.
A red squirrel with leucism, making it white, was a regular visitor to Craigatin House in Pitlochry, Perthshire, last summer and through to November. White squirrels were photographed in Grimoldby, Lincolnshire, in October, and in Burgess Hill, West Sussex, in November. Simon Pimblett photographed another one raiding a bird feeder in his back garden in Dulwich, south-east
ABOVE: A pair of white giraffes flank a normally coloured specimen in Kenya’s Ishaqbini Hirola Conservancy. BELOW: The white lion cub of Altiplano Zoo in Mexico.
LEFT: The rare white red stag, standing out from his more conventionally coloured herd members, photographed in the Cairngorms by Damien Zoyo.
ABOVE: The elusive white bull moose photographed by Hans Nilsson in Varmland, Sweden.
ABOVE RIGHT: A leucistic squirrel.