An albino gorilla who lived for 40 years at a Barcelona zoo is the subject of a new study that traced his origins, and the results are surprising.
Snowflake was famous up until his death in 2003 from skin cancer because of his extraordinary coloring; after being born in the wild, he was captured by Equatorial Guinea villagers and was the only known albino gorilla in the world. He was given the Spanish name Copito de Nieve, and the English name Snowflake. Studies were done to try and find what caused his rare condition, but none ever came close to the findings that Spanish researchers say they have discovered. After extensive gene sequencing, they isolated the reported cause: Snowflake was the offspring of an uncle and a niece who mated somewhere down the line.
The gene was found after careful searching through DNA, which was taken from a frozen blood sample of Snowflake’s. The DNA showed that 12% of his mother and father’s genes matched.
Some scientists believe that factors like habitat loss and reduced populations contribute to animal inbreeding.
“If we are reducing much more the space that they have now, it is more likely that they will be forced to stay in the group and that will increase the consanguinity,” (shared blood), Tomas Marques-Bonet, who led the study, said.
You can watch video of Snowflake here.
Image: Barcelona Zoo