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Friday, 13 December, 2002, 11:42 GMT
Albino penguin 'one-in-a-million'
Albino African penguin chick
The albino penguin has a black-and-white brother
A six-week-old albino African penguin chick, hatched at Bristol Zoo, has made its first public appearance.

The chick, named Snowdrop, was born alongside its black-and-white sibling and keepers suspected it was a first among zoos.

They have now searched European records and discovered that albinos are rarely seen in the wild.

The zoo has described the chick as "one-in-a-million".

'Recessive mutation'

Duncan Bolton, curator at Bristol Zoo Gardens, said: "I contacted my colleagues in South Africa to find out just how unusual Snowdrop is.

Our penguin also has pink feet and face and a pale beak as well as white feathers and so is a true albino

Sharon Redrobe, head of veterinary services

"So far they have tracked down only two recorded sightings of albino penguins in the wild."

Sharon Redrobe, the zoo's head of veterinary services, said: "Albino is a simple recessive mutation.

"That means any albino must have received a copy of the mutation from both its father and mother, who may look perfectly normal."

She said the albino penguin had been produced by a rare coincidence of two rare carrier animals breeding together.

Monitor penguins

The albino mutation interferes with the production of melanin so no black pigment is produced.

Albino penguin chick
The six-week-old chick is "fit and healthy"
"That's why an albino has pink eyes," Ms Redrobe explained.

"Our penguin also has pink feet and face and a pale beak as well as white feathers and so is a true albino."

She said the zoo would monitor the penguin for signs of diseases associated with albinism such as skin and eye problems.

But health checks so far have shown Snowdrop is fit and healthy.

Population decline

In the wild, African penguins live in a small area around the coasts of South Africa.

In recent years populations have declined as oil pollution, a reduction of their food supply caused by overfishing and egg collection have threatened breeding colonies.

Bristol Zoo supports African penguin conservation through the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds .

It also contributes to the European co-ordinated conservation breeding programme.


Click here to go to Bristol
See also:

30 Apr 02 | Science/Nature
20 Jul 00 | Africa
12 Apr 02 | England
25 Jan 02 | England
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