Giant pandas are one of the world’s most distinct animal species; their black and white fur patterns make them particularly conspicuous in the wild, and they’re recognized around the globe as fuzzy, bamboo-munching bears that are native to China. But while most giant pandas sport that notorious black and white fur, that doesn’t appear to be the case for all of them.
A photograph shared just this past week by the Sinchuan province’s Wolong National Nature Reserve depicts what appears to be an albino giant panda. The image was captured with an infrared camera trap in China, and it’s purportedly the first scientific evidence of an albino giant panda in the wilderness to date.
Image Credit: AFP/Getty Images
Albinism is often confused with a similar pigmentation deficiency dubbed leucism, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in this particular scenario. An animal with leucism may also exhibit unusual fur paleness, or at least in a patchy sense, but the animal’s eyes would typically appear normal when compared with other specimens of its kind.
As seen in this image of the all-white giant panda from China, its eyes seem to be absent of pigmentation, and as a result, appear pink against the animal’s bright white fur. Similar signs are seen in the animal’s nose and ears, which appear bright pink instead of black.
Related: Why do giant pandas have black and white fur?
While the photograph is only just now being publicized, it was allegedly captured last December. Experts have determined that the panda is particularly young, at just 1-2 years old, but they are unable to decide whether it’s a male or a female. Officials are now placing additional infrared camera traps in the region with the hope of observing more albino giant pandas.
Giant pandas were once considered an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), but they were removed from the organization’s Red List of Endangered Species in 2016 after it was determined that the species’ population numbers in the wild had grown from 1,600 to more than 1,860.
Despite these applaudable gains, current giant panda populations continue to face challenges in China’s wilderness, including but not limited to habitat fragmentation and habitat loss, both of which prevent breeding pairs from interacting with one another. Given the circumstances, it’s being advised that giant panda populations could plummet again in the foreseeable future.
It should be interesting to see if this albino giant panda pops up on any of the new camera traps again any time soon.
Source: The Guardian, WWF