An extremely rare zebra with partial albinism was spotted near a watering hole in a valley in Serengeti National Park located in Tanzania. While a small amount of these zebras live in captivity, this is the first proven sighting of a zebra with the rare condition living out in the wild.
On February 17, 2019, photographer Sergio Pitamitz was out taking pictures of migrating zebras when he spotted an odd light-colored animal in the middle of the herd. “At first I thought it was a zebra that had rolled in the dust,” he said. But after watching the animal at the watering hole, he saw that the “dust” wasn’t washing off, so he started taking pictures of it.
Several scientists, including Greg Barsh who is a geneticist at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, believe that the golden-colored zebra probably has a very rare condition that’s not often found in those animals called partial albinism. If a zebra has partial albinism, it means that it has a lot less melanin which is a natural pigment found in its skin. The result is that the animal’s stripes are very pale in color.
Since very little is known about albinism in zebras, this sighting of one in the wild is definitely exciting. A few dozen partially albino zebras are currently living in Mount Kenya National Park on a private reserve.
The pictures that Pitamitz took “provide confirmation that animals with the condition can survive in the wild [and] that they are seemingly accepted by ‘normal’ zebras,” stated Barsh. And it’s not surprising that the “blonde” (or golden) zebra was accepted by the others because they recognize each other primarily by smell and sound. In fact, other zebras with different color patterns – such as ones with spots and others with extra black stripes – are also accepted into the herds.
While there isn’t any evidence that their stripes camouflage them from predators, they do help to keep away biting flies. It’s unknown how dark the stripes have to be in order to help keep the flies away, so it’s possible that the light colored stripes may not ward off the flies. But since there are so few golden zebras around, scientists aren’t sure how or if their light pigmentation affects the flies in any way.
Albinism has been studied in domestic animals like horses, guinea pigs, mice, and humans, but it’s hardly helpful when attempting to understand what effects it may have on wild animals. What is known is that they are beautiful creatures and they seemingly fit into their surrounding the same as non-albino animals do.
As for Sergio Pitamitz, he’s beyond excited that he was able to capture the extremely rare animal in photographs. And it’s not the first time that he found a rare type of animal. Two years ago when he was in Kenya, he took pictures of an extremely rare black wildcat.
In reference to the two incredible sightings that he was able to capture on film, he simply said, “Wildlife photography is about passion [and] patience. But sometimes luck helps!”