By Ian Salisbury
I first caught a glimpse of a “white” baby baboon around the Mfuwe Lodge grounds about six weeks ago.
With his unusual pale colouring he was very noticeable and really stood out amongst the rest of his family. His mother, and other related females, were very protective of him, perhaps more so than with the normally-colored babies.
I’ve had the privilege of seeing him on a few more occasions as he has grown. He seems to be allowed to wander further afield, making friends with other young baboons of the same age. I have taken to carrying my camera when heading from the main lodge to my house in the hope of catching him in action.
He really has a lot of character and is very amusing to watch… when you can get close enough without mum grabbing him and running off!
He’s not an albino. He exhibits a condition known as leucism. This is an unusual situation where the pigmentation cells in an animal or bird fail to develop properly. This can result in unusual white patches, or even completely white animals, which usually darken with age.
It has been suggested that the Luangwa Valley might even be a hot spot for “leucism”…though there is no scientific basis for this. It has even been suggested that the valley’s yellow baboons may have some kind of genetic link with a smaller race of baboons called “kinda” which inhabit areas further west in Zambia. Almost all kinda baboon babies are born white. However, this link has never been established.
I’m very interesting to observe whether our baby darkens with age and just how long this takes… if he sticks around that is!