The marvelous pink hippo!

By Guido Trombetta on 6:10 PM ,


Will and Matt Burrard-Lucas are two brothers from UK and two talented wildlife photographers. A couple of months ago, while they were taking pictures of the wildebeest migration in the Masai Mara region they stumbled across a very unusual guy: a pink hippo!

Here how they described this amazing experience with their own worda in their wonderful blog:

We have just returned from a trip to the Masai Mara in Kenya where we were photographing the annual wildebeest migration. After a rather uneventful morning, we stopped on the banks of the Mara River for a picnic breakfast. It was then that we came across a truly exceptional individual… just as we started to tuck into our breakfast, we looked up and gawked, open-mouthed, as a pink hippopotamus emerged from the river! Hippos are usually dark brown in colour, so this individual was very conspicuous! We dropped our breakfast and reached for our cameras.

The hippo was clearly a young one since it was much smaller than the others in the group. It was also very shy and tended to stick close to its mother. To avoid frightening it off, we used a long 600mm lens to photograph it from a distance. Nevertheless, it only stayed ashore for few minutes before returning to the safety of the river. Thereafter we caught fleeting glimpses of it as it came up to breathe.


On the contrary of what many might think, this pink hippo is not an albino individual. Its condition is called Leucism. The main difeerence between an individual affected by albinism and a leucistic one is that caused by a reduction in all types of skin pigment, not just melanin. Therefore in species that have other pigment cell-types, for example xanthophores, albinos are not entirely white, but instead display a pale yellow colour.
Leucism instead is a general term for the phenotype resulting from defects in pigment cell differentiation and/or migration from the neural crest to skin, hair or feathers during development. This results in either the entire surface (if all pigment cells fail to develop) or patches of body surface (if only a subset are defective) having a lack of cells capable of making pigment. The last difference (and it's very clear in this pink hippo) is in eye colour. Due to the lack of melanin production in both the retinal pigmented epithelium (RPE) and iris, albinos typically have red eyes due to the underlying blood vessels showing through. In contrast, leucistic animals have normally coloured eyes. This is because the melanocytes of the RPE are not derived from the neural crest, instead an outpouching of the neural tube generates the optic cup which, in turn, forms the retina. As these cells are from an independent developmental origin, they are typically unaffected by the genetic cause of leucism. This means great luck for pink hippo because an albino individual would have probably suffered vision problems, instead, as Burrard-Lucas brothers tell us, pink hippo seems to be able to live a normal life:

Being an animal that is so strikingly different often results in a hard life; these creatures frequently become outcasts, rejected by their conventionally colored peers. In this case however, we were relieved to note that the other hippos seemed to be treating the pink hippo just like any other. 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 young hippo’s mother would fiercely protect it if they were ever attacked. Finally, animals without skin pigmentation often suffer from severe sunburn. However, a hippos’ sweat is unique in that it acts as a very effective sunscreen, protecting them from harmful UV radiation… therefore it seems that this pink hippo should be able to survive perfectly well in the wild!


If you've enjoyed  the pictures of the "Pinkopotamus" take a look to the Burrard-Lucas brothers blog, a comprehensive showcase of our wildlife and travel photographs from around the world.




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