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Timmy Toucan / Tim Williams

Albino Kookaburras Are the Latest Albino Animals to Make Headlines

December 07, 2010 06:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Two female albino kookaburras have been found in northern Australia, in the wake of last year’s pink elephant and pink dolphin.

Storm-Swept Kookaburras Found by Cattle Farmer

The pair of birds, thought to be sisters, were found by a farmer in northern Queensland following a storm that likely knocked them from their nest. The “pink-eyed, pink-beaked and starkly white creatures” are the first albino kookaburras ever found in Australia.

The six-week-old birds were lucky to be found. According to Harry Kunz of the Eagle’s Nest Wildlife Sanctuary, they would not have lasted long outside of their nest, as their white fur would have attracted predators.

“Usually cream-breasted and bellied with dark brown and blue wings, the kookaburra—a type of kingfisher—is an iconic Australian bird which is best known for its call, which sounds uncannily like human laughter.”

Listen to the kookaburra’s unique call in this video from the Cincinnati Zoo.

Pink Elephant Spotted in Botswana

Last March, the BBC reported that a pink albino African elephant had been spotted in Botswana. A wildlife cameraman, Mike Holding, told the BBC, “This was a really exciting moment for everyone in camp. We knew it was a rare sighting—no one could believe their eyes.”

Albinism is not unusual in Asian elephants, but is rare in African elephants. Ecologist Dr. Mike Chase told the BBC this may be because the condition makes survival unlikely in the harsh African sun. “Surviving this very rare phenomenon is very difficult in the harsh African bush. The glaring sun may cause blindness and skin problems.” However, Chase went on to note hopefully that the pink elephant was sighted in an area with large trees, and seems to be adapting to the condition by walking in the shade furnished by its mother.

The report came just weeks after a pink bottlenose dolphin again surfaced in Louisiana’s Lake Calcasieu, an estuary north of the Gulf of Mexico. The dolphin, which gets its color from albinism, was seen by charter boat captain Erik Rue, who originally spotted and photographed it in June 2007.

Albinism is a rare condition seen in just 14 bottlenose dolphins since the first was spotted in 1962, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. It affects many species, including humans and 20 species of dolphins, whales and porpoises.

“Very little is known about albino dolphins due to their extreme rarity. What is known about albinism comes from humans,” explains the NOAA. “Albinism is a genetic predisposition, expressed as a lack of melanin pigments within the body. … This genetic trait is characterized by white or light skin and hair, the appearance of pink or red eye coloring and often-impaired vision.”

The pink dolphin has attracted tourists to Lake Calcasieu, but conservationists warn that sightseers should be careful around it. “It is a truly beautiful dolphin but people should be careful, as with any dolphins, to respect it—observe from a distance, limit their time watching, don’t chase or harass it,” said Regina Asmutis-Silvia of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society to The Daily Telegraph.

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Background: Albinism in animals

Albinism is a genetic condition characterized by a reduced ability to produce melanin, a pigment that determines an animal’s skin, hair and eye color. Though the condition is rare, it has been spotted in most species of animals.

Albinism occurs when the gene for normal pigmentation—the dominant gene—is lacking, and a recessive gene for albinism is present. There are different levels of albinism; pure albinos have white or light pink skin and reddish-pink eyes.

The condition causes several problems for albino animals. They tend to be smaller than other animals and they are more susceptible to sun damage. “Dark pigments like melanin also help to protect skin and eyes from overexposure to sunlight,” explains the Missouri Department of Conservation. “Many albino animals face a higher risk of melanomas and retinal damage.”

Albinos also stand out from the fellow animals, making them more visible to predators and prey. Though this is likely a disadvantage, some studies have suggested that albinism makes an animal less likely to be identified as a predator or prey.

Albino animals are highly sought after as pets or as exhibits in zoos. “Their striking appearance has always made people wonder about albino animals,” says the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “Some people believed albinos had special powers and worshiped them; others believed they were spooky and feared them.”

Reference: Pictures of the pink dolphin and other albino animals

Related Topic: Weird animals


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