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Have you met snowflake?

Snowflake is the only known albino gorilla in history!

He was a male wild-born Western Lowland Gorilla captured from the Equatorial Guinea and lived at the Barcelona Zoo for almost 40 years.

His albinism was non-syndromic oculocutaneous. In simple English, this means he had white hair, light eyes, pink skin, photophobia and reduced visual acuity. At the Barcelona Zoo, researchers who studied Snowflake learned that the he had poor vision, due to a lack of pigment in his eyes. He often frowned in an attempt to protect his eyes from bright light. They also mentioned that his vision problems appeared to reduce his coordination and confidence. In the wild, such difficulties might have prevented Snowflake from ever reproducing — or perhaps from even surviving at all.

 

Western Lowland gorilla Snowflake_-_Barcelona_Zoo_White_Gorilla3

 

He was the most famous resident of the zoo in Barcelona, Spain and he died on November 24, 2003, when from cancer. It was said that Snowflake enjoyed a fantastic quality of life, and interacted normally with his children and grandchildren. Though Snowflake has been long gone for close to 13 years now, his legacy remains. In his time at the zoo, he fathered 21 gorillas. He also has grandchildren, two of whom were twins (which is remarkable as the birth of twins is rare in gorillas).

None of Snowflake’s offspring, however, is albino (several of the grandchildren have had light patches on their hands or feet at birth, but they disappear with age). That’s because Snowflake’s albinism was the very rare product of a genetic coincidence: both his mother and his father had to carry a specific gene.

 

Adapted from PBS Nature and Prado-Martinez et al, 2013

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