Pandas are commonly known for their furry black-and-white markings, so a sighting of an all-white panda with red eyes trudging through a bamboo forest in China is enough to stun experts.
This wild Giant Panda (Ailuropoda Melanoleuca) is said to be the first known albino of its kind. With fewer than 2,000 giant Pandas left in the wild, the all-white cub with reddish eyes is a cause for celebration. Captured by an infrared motion-triggered camera (a device showing the differences in heat through images) set up to monitor the wildlife last December.
The Wolong National nature reserve in the South-Western province of Sichuan who released the photo taken last April is a vast protected area that homes China’s first giant panda breeding and research center. Wolong officials who announced the discovery of the white Panda bear on May 25, 2019, also stated that the unrehearsed photo shoot occurred in a densely-forested area about 6,500 feet (2,000 meters) above sea level. At that time, the Albino Panda was wandering in a bamboo forest, probably searching for food to eat.
Officials also assessed the mammal’s age, which is between one-two years old. The sex, however, could not be determined as it is hard to define from a grainy photo.
Scientists later determined the animal’s outside appearance; its all-white body and reddish eyes caused by ‘albinism.‘ It is a rare genetic condition in which there is a total or partial lack of the skin pigment melanin, said The Guardian.
Albinism, as experts indicated, makes it hard for animals to hide from predators. The University of California in 2017 conducted a research and found out that the giant panda’s distinct black and white coloring allows it to blend with the snow during winter or to hide in the shade during summer. The black circles around the Pandas’ eyes help them recognize each other, which is one of the factors in developing a mutual relationship with others.
Fortunately, the all-white cuddly panda seems to be unaffected by the lack of markings. Li Sheng, an assistant professor in conservation biology at Peking University who specializes in bears, said that the “panda looked healthy, and his steps were steady, a sign that the genetic mutation may not have entirely impeded its life.”
Other Albino animals have been spotted in recent years which includes: an inbred gorilla, a three-year-old Risso’s dolphin off the coast of California, and a zebra at a sanctuary in Hawaii. However, spotting the Albino Panda is exceptionally rare since there’s only two percent of probability that Albinism will manifest in Panda species. The giant panda, which is native to China, are unique species of bear with fewer than 2,000 remaining in the wild.
However, this is not the first time a panda bear is spotted with a unique color. The Qinling mountain range in China’s Southern Shaanxi province is believed to home all brown Pandas. Among them is Qi Zai, (a product of gene mutation) is an adorable nine-year-old brown bear who was found lurking in the wild. He was abandoned when he was only two months old, and officials who found him and nursed him back to health at the Shaanxi Rare Wildlife Rescue Center. After Qi Zai recovered his health, he was brought to Foping Panda National Nature Reserve where he resided for three years.
Officials believe that Pandas with rare coloring is a product of recessive mutation. One example is Albinism mutation; a recessive mutation, which means that it can only be inherited if both parents carry the gene. With few specimens of panda bears left in the world, the odds of that happening are almost impossible. And scientists feared that with the growing concern on climate change where the habitat of these cute mammals is at risk and may be damaged, the Panda Bear population would likely to suffer. If this happens, people can no longer witness any unique Pandas with rare coloring.
For further research, authorities said that the reserve would install more infrared cameras to track the Albino panda and its development in the wild. Seeing an all-white panda is proof that there are things which humans and technologies have not yet discovered, said Wolong officials. So far, scientists are also positive to see an offspring or two that will add to the diminishing panda bear population and provide them insights into Qi Zai’s and white-panda unique coloring.