April 25, 2009

Kenyan Preserve Spots First Albino Buffalo

Officials at Kenya's majestic Hell's Gate National Park announced on Friday that park rangers had recently sighted an albino buffalo calf, the first of its kind ever found in the country.

"This is the first time that an albino buffalo has been found in our parks and it's a great day for nature and animal lovers," said the park's senior warden, Nelly Palmeris.

Based on its size, rangers estimate that the calf is about three months old.  Though traveling with one the park's largest buffalo herds, they said that they had no problem spotting it, as its light brown coat makes it easily distinguishable from the rest of the herd. 

Rangers also mentioned that the calf was not noticed earlier because the herd had been confining itself to shady regions of the park in an attempt to stay cool and conserve water during the recent drought.

Park officials say that the calf's light color will make it a particularly conspicuous target for the park's numerous predators.  One reason that albinism is not more prevalent amongst fauna outside of the polar regions is because the pressures of natural selection tend to eliminate such individuals before they can reach maturity and reproduce.

This young calf faces an additional obstacle to survival.  Amongst the native Maasai, the pastoralist tribes that inhabit the region, albinism carries a cultural stigma and is considered a sign of bad luck

"The African community and especially Maasais associate albinos with bad omens," explained Palmeris.  "We are just coming from a bad drought and the Maasai might associate the famine with this buffalo and kill it."  She added that the park rangers have beefed-up the security around the herd as a precautionary measure should the tribesmen try to attack the rare animal.

While this fair haired mammal is the first to be sighted in Kenya, various countries and wildlife preserves around the world have reported spotting albino buffaloes.

Most forms of mammalian albinism are the result of the biological inheritance of genetically recessive alleles (genes) passed down from both parents of an individual.  The resulting lighter-colored skin and hair is typically caused by the dysfunction of the gene responsible for producing the pigment melanin.


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