Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The White Curse Revisited

About a decade ago I published an article in Australasian Science entitled "The White Curse" In the article I looked at the reasons why so few albino animals survive to maturity in the wild. There are a number of factors that contribute to the high mortality rate  of these 1 in 10,000 anomalies including poor eyesight and higher incidence of skin cancer however it would seem there is one thing that above all others prevents these animals from living a long and productive life - their colour!

Many species of animal rely on camouflage to survive in their natural habitats. - take the kudu pictured below that I photographed in Zambia's South Luangwa in the late 1990's for example. It's easy to see from this image that the albino individual is at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to trying to blend into its surroundings. This was confirmed barely two weeks after this photo was taken when a pack of wild dogs singled out this white kudu from the rest of the herd thus confining another albino to an early death.

Albino Kudu - Sth Luangwa National Park, Zambia.

Over the years guiding in Zambia and Tanzania I have only seen a few  more albino or partially albino animals including a young baboon and a hyrax. One thing that they all had in common was they were all juveniles, further strengthening my belief that most wild born albinos don't survive to maturity. There has however been one exception to this rule that I was lucky enough to see and photograph early in 2009 on the plains of the southern Serengeti.

Late in the afternoon on a game drive out of Kusini campsite, I spotted an unusually coloured animal off in the distance. On closer inspection through my binoculars I had to do a double take as what appeared to be a pure white Honey Badger ambled  through the grass. On closer inspection my suspicions were confirmed as there staring us down in typical badger style was an all white adult complete with a large black scorpion protruding from its mouth. It paused just long enough for a few photos before disappearing into some low brush. Given their fearsome reputation it makes sense that if any albino animal is going to survive to maturity then its going to be this one!

Albino Honey Badger - Serengeti National Park, Tanzania.

Partial Albino Hyrax - Serengeti National Park

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