Albinism is a congenital condition (present from birth) characterized by partial or total lack of the pigment melanin that gives color to the skin, hair and eyes. This rare condition not only affects humans but also other mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and amphibians.
Albinism is not a disease; it is a hereditary condition and thus cannot be transmitted through contact, blood transfusion or any other means.
The dark pigment melanin helps protect the skin from ultraviolet radiation from the sun; therefore, animals with albinism can sunburn easily from overexposure. Some albino zoo animals are known to be slathered on with sun block to protect them from the sun’s harmful rays.
Albinos’ lack of melanin in the eyes also results in eye conditions such as photo sensitivity. However, their vision is enhanced at night due to the greater amount of light that reaches the retina.
Occasionally, the eyes of animals with albinism appear red as it becomes transparent due to the absence of pigment which allows the retinal blood vessels to show through. This is rare in humans as the human eye produces enough pigment to lend opacity to the eye, often coloring the iris pale blue. It’s possible for a human albino’s eye to appear red or purple, depending on the amount of pigment present.
(albino African pygmy hedgehog)
(albino leopard frog)
Albinos are generally as healthy as the rest of their species with normal growth and development as well as capability of reproduction.
Due to their hypersensitivity to sunlight, they have a higher risk of skin cancer. A rare albino gorilla died of skin cancer at a Barcelona zoo.
The survival rate of albino animals in the wild is usually low as they lack their protective camouflage and thus unable to conceal themselves from predators or prey; most of them rarely reach adulthood.
A human albino faces social and cultural challenges; their looks are often a source of ridicule, discrimination or even fear and violence. In the animal kingdom however, albino animals in captivity is a fascination among owners or visitors; in some cultures, it is even believed to bring good luck.
The most famous albino animal in the world today is the male humpback whale off the coast of Australia named, Migaloo. He was first spotted in 1991 and recent close up photos have shown him to have skin cancer and/or skin cysts as a result of his lack of protection from the sun.
Just because an animal is colored white doesn’t always mean that it is an albino. The rare white peacock is frequently mistaken for an albino when it is in fact a variety of the Spalding Peafowl. The white lion and white tiger are not albinos; they have a different condition known as leucism, a reduction (not a lack) in all types of skin pigment, not just melanin.
* The white peacock is not an albino
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