Page last updated at 09:17 GMT, Friday, 20 March 2009

Pink elephant is caught on camera

By Rebecca Morelle
Science reporter, BBC News

Pink baby elephant in Botswana (Mike Holding)
The little pink calf was spotted in amongst an 80-strong elephant herd

A pink baby elephant has been caught on camera in Botswana.

A wildlife cameraman took pictures of the calf when he spotted it among a herd of about 80 elephants in the Okavango Delta.

Experts believe it is probably an albino, which is an extremely rare phenomenon in African elephants.

They are unsure of its chances of long-term survival - the blazing African sunlight may cause blindness and skin problems for the calf.

Mike Holding, who spotted the baby while filming for a BBC wildlife programme, said: "We only saw it for a couple of minutes as the herd crossed the river.

"This was a really exciting moment for everyone in camp. We knew it was a rare sighting - no-one could believe their eyes."

Baby pink elephant in Botswana
The harsh sun poses a serious threat to the animal's survival, say experts

Albino elephants are not usually white, but instead they have more of a reddish-brown or pink hue.

While albinism is thought to be fairly common in Asian elephants, it is much less common in the larger African species.

Ecologist Dr Mike Chase, who runs conservation charity Elephants Without Borders, said: "I have only come across three references to albino calves, which have occurred in Kruger National Park in South Africa.

Baby pink elephant in Botswana (Mike Holding)
Surviving this very rare phenomenon is very difficult in the harsh African bush
Dr Mike Chase, Elephants Without Borders

"This is probably the first documented sighting of an albino elephant in northern Botswana.

"We have been studying elephants in the region for nearly 10 years now, and this is the first documented evidence of an albino calf that I have come across."

He said that the condition might make it difficult for the calf to survive into adulthood.

"What happens to these young albino calves remains a mystery," said Dr Chase.

"Surviving this very rare phenomenon is very difficult in the harsh African bush. The glaring sun may cause blindness and skin problems."

However, he told BBC News that there might be a ray of hope for the pink calf as it already seemed to be learning to adapt to its condition.

I have learned that elephants are highly adaptable, intelligent and masters of survival
Dr Mike Chase, Elephants Without Borders

Dr Chase explained: "Because this elephant calf was sighted in the Okavango Delta, he may have a greater chance of survival. He can seek refuge under the large trees and cake himself in a thick mud, which will protect him from the Sun.

"Already the two-to-three-month-old calf seems to be walking in the shade of its mother.

"This behaviour suggests it is aware of its susceptibility to the harsh African sun, and adapted a unique behaviour to improve its chances of survival."

He added: "I have learned that elephants are highly adaptable, intelligent and masters of survival."



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