A white wal­laby, a leucis­tic lion cub, a pig­ment-chal­lenged pea­cock and more...

Fortean Times - - Strange Days -


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.


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.

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