A visitor to Kruger, Modjadjikloof resident, Jacques Schalkwyk, spotted a light-coloured buffalo calf near the Middelvlei windmill between Mopani and Letaba rest camps on April 10, 2008.
The sighting was around midday on the tourist road. The calf was one of a substantialherd comprising “a few hundred” animals according to Jacques. He sent the photographs to John Adamson, senior field guide at Olifants rest camp, who asked state vet Dr Roy Bengis for more information on albino buffalo.
Dr Bengis remarked that “we get sporadic reports and photos of these white buffalo calves from various locations in the KNP. These calves are not albinos, please note that the muzzle, hooves and eyes are generally pigmented. With age the colour of these calves progresses to a pale cream colour, then a honey blonde, and then a light brown – as they get darker with age. The condition is called leucism, and is caused by a recessive gene.”
Animals which lack pigment may be either albinos or leucistic animals. Albinos have no pigment and pink eyes, while leucistic animals have dark eyes and may have some pigment, which produces ‘ghost’ markings. Leucistic animals may darken with age. In 2006, we reported on the sighting of two pink elephants in Kruger. At the time, Dr Bengis commented that the best way to tell an albino from a leucistic animal is by looking at the eyes, but that it is sometimes hard to see in the baby elephants as their eyelashes often obscure the true eye colour.
In leucistic elephants, which darken as they grow older, the area behind the ears often remains pink. “White lions” are also leucisitic. He said that both leucistic and albino animals will suffer from the effects of the harsh African sun, but that albino animals will almost certainly not make it to adulthood.