Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Nature’s paintbrush!

Did nature just run out of paint or is there more too these fascinating spotted or white animals we encounter in nature?

Of late I have encountered some fascinating specimens of rarity, more notably in Uganda while on safari. I updated you on the case of the “pink hippo” that we encountered at Chobe Safari lodge….and yes Uganda also has a Chobe; I didn't lose my way and ended up in Botswana. The Uganda version is one of those must see places, especially if you wanted to photograph the rare Rothschild giraffe as the park is home to the remaining 70% of this rare subspecies. 

 Rothschild giraffe outside Chobe Safari lodge in Uganda by John Gibbons

This Chobe lodge is located in Murchison falls national park in Uganda along the Frothing river Nile, and was named after the area. In the local lingo Chobe refers to place without men, referring to old tribal wars that took the men from the area in days long gone. Marasa Africa rebuilt the lodge two years ago once Joseph Kony and his lords residence army was pushed out of the area and Uganda, making this unspoiled area accessible to tourism again. 

While visiting the lodge, we stumbled onto a hippo that was covered in white spots, making it appear pinkish and I was intrigued to hear from the local guides that is was not an isolated case in the park and that they have seen completely pink coloured hippos. This obviously got my attention and I tucked this little titbit away as we proceeded with the trip, determined to find out more.

 Photo - Spotted pink hippo in front of Chobe Safari lodge by Kim Allen

On a Safari to Queen Elizabeth national park in the weeks that followed we took clients on a water Safari down the Kazinga channel.  As we approached a bachelor herd of buffalo on the banks of the channel I noticed that it was a combination of both forest and Cape buffalo, which was new to me in itself. But even more peculiar was the very evident white stripe down the front of the one males face.

Photo - Both forest and cape buffalo found lazing together on the banks of the Kazinga Channel by Corne Schalkwyk.  

That was my first encounter with this buffalo bull, that I now know has been spotted in the area before by guides and the locals estimate that they first noticed him some five years before as a young calf.
On my return to the lodge, I sent some photos off to both Lex Hes and Anton Lategan of EcoTraining in the hopes that my old employers and mentors could shed some light on the curious case of the white faced buffalo.

 Photo - Curious case of the white faced buffalo by Corne Schalkwyk

In the weeks that followed I got some feedback from guides and EcoTraining on abnormalities and colour variations in wild animals. This also opened the door to discussions around possible inbreeding or interbreeding of wild animals and even domestic animals, as Uganda doesn’t have fences surrounding their national parks.

Not only did I learn a lot, it actually made me feel at home in Uganda as this was a normal part our office life at EcoTraining and to be truthful, something I missed in Uganda.

Genetic abnormalities are present in all wildlife. Even birds have white spots that appear to be a linked to albinism or leucism.  This is due to the fact that every animal, from cockroaches to apes makes melanin and can have albinism. Such animals normally fare poorly in the wild and don’t always survive long enough for us to enjoy or see them in the wild, but the occurrence of albinism runs the gamut across the animal kingdom.
Their rate of survival is virtually zero. Predators easily pick them out of a group. Families and social groups can exclude them because to every other member, they look foreign. The specimens we normally see are in captivity as their survival rate increases significantly in captivity.  When it comes to mating, some species fare better than others. The albino peacock attracts females just fine.

 "Pink Hippo" spotted on Safari at Paraa Safari lodge - Photo by Penny Boyd

Albinism derived from the word “white “is a congenital disorder characterized by the complete or partial absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes due to absence of the copper-containing enzyme involved in the production of melanin.

While speaking to my friends and co-workers at Marasa Africa and Premier Safaris in Uganda it became apparent that there has been some ongoing sightings of “Pink Hippo’s” in Uganda, Maanan even sent me this amazing photo taken by Penny Boyd of a completely pink hippo that they spotted on a game drive close to Paraa Safari lodge in Murchison falls national park in Uganda prior to me joining the team at Marasa.
The hippo we spotted at Chobe wasn’t an albino as it had dark eyes and some pigmented spots on its body. Therefore it is most likely that this is an example of a leucistic hippo.

 Photo - Another example from Lex Hes - Lex took this photo of a young Impala in South Africa 

 “Leucism is a condition characterized by reduced pigmentation in animals and humans. Unlike albinism, it is caused by a reduction in all types of skin pigment, not just melanin.” Different to most cases of albinism, leucistic animals generally retain some essence of their normal pigmentation. A partial expression of leucism can be exhibited in the form of an animal having spotted or piebald appearance. The skin appears pink; its coat or fur colour may vary from blond to beige to pure white. Uganda has some great examples of this as the photos have shown.

Leucistic and albino animals are also easily spotted by predators which greatly reduces their chances of survival. Fortunately, hippos are too big for most predators, and this is probably why we spot more of these examples of nature’s sometimes wondering brush.

Given the millions of different shades of colour that we see in nature, it’s no wonder that, once in a while, nature might simply run out of paint. Perhaps this is why pure-white or patched coloured animals leave such a strong impression on us. Some of them look like ghostly spirit animals, especially if encountered at night. Others, like albino whales or apes, are lonely one-in-a-million albinos with striking, unexpected appearances.
As a keen wildlife photographer, it is always exciting to photograph something a little bit different, or out of the ordinary and Uganda delivered on the unusual.

Whether you find them strange, beautiful, abnormal or freakish, I hope you enjoyed this update of Uganda sightings that nature…..just forgot to colour in its normal way.

By Corne Schalkwyk

Photo Credits: Penny Boyd, Lex Hes of EcoTraining, Kim Allen of Chobe Safari lodge, Corne Schalkwyk and John Gibbons 

If you would like some more information related to the update above or Uganda in general please see information below:

Travel to Uganda with Premier Safaris, visit their website at or contact .

Premier have a great upcoming photographic Safari with Albie Venter (also from EcoTraining) in June called the "Pearl of Africa" Photographic Safari to Uganda –

To learn about the Marasa Africa lodges in Uganda and Kenya, Including Mweya, Paraa and Chobe safari lodges mentioned above visit their website at

EcoTraining - Nature Guide Training – Reconnecting you to the natural world through educational, exciting and life-changing wilderness experiences -

Also read the original update on the blog:

Tip for the day - #Wildlifewednesday 

Take a holiday, and travel to the wild as fascinating experiences awaits you. You can always make more money but our untouched wilderness and exploration is fast slipping out of our grasp.