- Authorities from a Chinese nature reserve have released a photo of a completely white giant panda.
- It is believed to be an albino giant panda, and is about 1 or 2 years old.
- Albinism is a result of a genetic condition that means the body doesn’t produce enough melanin – a pigment that causes a darkening of eyes, skin, and hair.
- Brown and white albino giant pandas have been spotted before, but this is the first documented photo of a fully white one.
- Researchers will now carefully track the panda to see if it reproduces.
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The first ever documented photo of a white albino giant panda was shared over the weekend. The picture was taken by an infrared trigger camera in a protected area of the Sichuan Wolong National Nature Reserve in China.
The panda is probably about 1 or 2 years old, judging by its size, authorities said in a statement.
“The picture clearly shows the unique morphological characteristics of the panda: the hair is white, the claws are white, and the eyes are red, passing through the lush native deciduous broad-leaved forest,” the statement says.
A researcher at the Peking University School of Life Sciences said the whitening effect of albinism occurs in all vertebrate species, including the eight bear species, but it is a rare phenomenon. It’s a result of a genetic condition that means the body doesn’t produce enough melanin – a pigment that causes a darkening of eyes, skin, and hair.
Other than being slightly more sensitive to direct sunlight, albinism doesn’t affect the normal physiology, behaviour, or reproduction of the animal.
As it is a recessive gene, both the panda’s mother and father need to be carriers to pass it on and have a whitened baby.
Li Sheng, from the Species Survival Commission of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, told the New York Times that although brown and white albino pandas have been spotted in China, this is the first photo of a fully white one.
“I personally think it’s quite random for it to be discovered, since albinism manifests itself so infrequently,” she said. “This was recorded just in time.”
According to the statement, the secretary of the Wolong National Nature Reserve Administration of Sichuan Province, Duan Zhaogang, said researchers will increase the amount of infrared cameras in the region to track the white panda, to see if it reproduces more white offspring.
The giant panda’s conservation status was downgraded from endangered to vulnerable in 2016, after decades of dedicated effort to bring their numbers up with poaching bans and expanding forest reserves.
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According to the the Worldwide Wildlife Fund (WWF) , there were 1,114 giant pandas living in the wild in the ’80s, but that number has increased to 1,864.
“The recovery of the panda shows that when science, political will, and engagement of local communities come together, we can save wildlife and also improve biodiversity,” said the WWF director.
However, some Chinese officials argued that the hard work isn’t over, as climate change can threaten their habitats, and many giant pandas live in small isolated groups that can struggle to reproduce.
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