Behold, more albino animals spotted in KenyaBy JANET OTIENO in Nairobi | Wednesday, May 30 2012 at 12:49
Known as one of the world’s greatest natural spectacle, African wildlife has a new addition to its list of animals after several albino species were sighted in Kenyan parks.
The varying geography and climate in Kenya and other African countries allows for the existence of various species of animals thus attracting more tourists.
Albinism is a genetic condition that limits or prevents entirely the production of body pigment.
According to Dr Charles Musyoki who is a senior scientist in the department of Species Conservation at Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), “The skin does not produce melanin. So the animals are white in colour with pink eyes”.
“True albinos are very rare. There are varying degrees of albinism in wildlife animals. A partial albino animal has some melanin and it is usually blue-eyed. Piebaldism is a condition where there are patches of white from mutations in some skin cells of the animals, “ he told Africa Review in Nairobi.
“There are others such as bluish-grey anerythristic who lack the colour red. Tyrosinase-negative is whereby the animal produces a pale yellowish animal with pink eyes. Tyrosinase-positive makes an animal to have a fawn or platinum colour.
“Axanthic animals lack yellow and their colour depends on colours in their original pattern. Leucism is reduced pigmentation in the skin. In lions, it will be usually white or very pale hair, with dark eyes and some pigmentation, for example ghost markings. Partial leucism is called piebald while Chinchilla is a mutation that affects the distribution of pigment on the hair shaft. White tigers are chinchilla.”
These animals are a sight to behold attracting tourists from the world over, but even with this new species adding to the list of our wildlife, their pale skin is making them susceptible to predators as they do not have a natural camouflage.
In addition, Dr Musyoki says, it is not only the predators, the animals also face various challenges as they can become blind, they are also susceptible to skin cancer and are poached due to cultural misconceptions concerning them. This is because some local communities view albinism as bad omen.
“Globally, there has been an increase in documentation of albino wildlife. However, in Africa and especially Kenya there has been very little documentation in form of photographs and publications on these animals,” Dr Musyoki pointed out.
Other reports have it that Albino animals are still rare and few since it was a common practice for naturalists and explorers to shoot and preserve them up until the 19th Century. However, by 20th Century, photography become a practical alternative to showcase their beauty.
This condition is not only specific to wildlife in Kenya only but also the world over for instance; the most famous one was albino dolphin that was sighted several times by an angler in the US.
"It was pink in colour and had red eyes," Dr Musyoki said.
In Africa, a few have been recorded like the albino elephant was also sighted in the Okavango Delta in Botswana. Experts said chances of its survival are high since it was observed to keep close to its mother and find shade under the trees.
Another one was a rare white giraffe, which was spotted in Tarangire National Park in Tanzania by Charles Foley of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
However in Africa Kenya still has the highest documented number of albino animals like an albino buffalo that received a lot of media hype after being sighted in Hells Gate National Park, in the country’s Rift Valley region by rangers. At the time, the calf was three months old. The herd was secured to avoid the calf being killed by predators and pastoralists as a result of cultural stigma associated with albinism.
And if you thought that was all, an albino elephant was sighted in Amboseli National Park found in Kenya’s lower eastern region by an elephant research team and soon after that, more discoveries have been made.
A herd of albino zebras was found in northern Kenya though only six were remaining at that time because of poaching. They were relocated to Mt Kenya Wildlife orphanage in central part of the country and now the herd has increased to 200.
And just last year, an albino topi (a highly social and fast antelope species) was sighted in Sibiloi National Park in northern Kenya and an albino baboon.
The only question now is, will the albino animals survive? This question bothers wildlife experts and conservationists like Dr Musyoki who are now worried since even people with albinism have long been the target of discrimination in several African countries.
This is because of a widespread belief that albinos have special powers thus they are brutally killed and their body parts sold to witchdoctors. This is being fuelled by black magic and witchcraft and now conservationists like KWS have been conducting awareness campaigns in an attempt to protect albino animals that falls within their jurisdiction.
This should go along the way in wiping out the cultural stigma against albino animals to reduce a threat to their existence since it is no secret that tourism has become a popular addition to economic development for any developing world like Kenya given its ability to bring in needed foreign exchange earnings, income and employment. Tourism alone earned Kenya $817.7 million in 2010, up 18 per cent from $694.4 million the previous year. Thus conserving these albino species in our parks would clearly have some trickling effect on the economy as well.
This way, Kenya and other African countries would remain a home to some of the largest animals –famously known as the Big Five and most beautiful species in the world thus attracting more visitors given the continent’s exceptional resource endowment for tourism.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: JanetOtieno
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