Saturday, 29 March 2014

Our "Pink" encounter

Recently we have been stumbling onto the unique and weird wildlife that Uganda has been hiding from us up to now.  All animals are obviously not created equally, but this reminded me off some interesting facts related to these animals as well as the abnormalities that occur in nature.

Hippos are a lot cooler than we normally allow for. In fact, hippos never sweat. Not because they’re so calm and collected, although that might be true. Quite literally, hippos do not produce sweat. The reddish-orange stuff that does emerge from large pores deep in their skin might look like sweat and in some cases are referred to as blood or bloodlike due to its appearance, but according to a study by two Japanese scientists, hippo goop is a combination of anti-biotic and sunscreen.

The red hipposudoric acid, and the orange norhipposudoric acid. Both are conjugated three-ring structures. The two compounds absorb light in the UV-visible range (200-600 nm) and so are thought to protect the hippo's dermis from the sun. Additionally, low concentrations of hipposudoric acid inhibit the growth of bacteria. Both compounds are highly reactive, and tend to polymerize when removed from the hippo and/or a water source. An unknown agent in hippo mucus keeps the compounds from polymerizing for several hours, even after the hippo sweat dries."

After analysing the stuff in the lab, the scientists found that the pigments that give hippo goop its reddish colour are highly acidic and help keep certain kinds of harmful bacteria from growing. That probably explains why hippos can sustain gashes and injuries during fights with other hippos and not suffer from infection.
The scientists also found that the goop absorbs the sun’s ultraviolet rays, which can cause sunburn and skin cancer. So hippos enjoy a kind of natural sunscreen.

If we apply this to the philosophy that one can learn from nature and or imitate nature surely we would be able to learn from this to produce a natural sunscreen that humans can use to deal with that deadly African sun. Maybe even use Hippo goop the next time you go under the knife to help you heal.

But as I mentioned not all hippos are created equal.  We spotted this almost pink hippo at Chobe Safari lodge in Uganda and I couldn’t help but wonder what happened here? It’s is definitely not an albino, maybe a case of “leucistic hippo." I was aware of an odd-looking hippo encountered in the Mara that has a condition called leucism, which occurs when the skin produces less pigment than usual, making it appear pinkish.

It still amazes me how often nature reveals something unexpected, and truly amazing!

What do you think? Sunburn, Sweat or Leucistic?

Thanks Kim Allen (GM at Chobe Safari lodge Uganda). Corne Schalkwyk (Premier Safaris)