White mischief

Rebecca Phillips reports on leucistic baboons spotted in Ruaha
Recently there was a media stir about the sighting of two rare white reticulated giraffe in Kenya; a mother and baby who share a genetic condition known as leucism, which gives them their unique colouration. Leucism differs from albinism in that it is caused by a reduction in multiple types of pigment, not just melanin, so the eyes retain their normal colour, unlike the characteristic pink/red eyes of albinism.
At Mdonya Old River Camp in Ruaha National Park, southern Tanzania, we have our own special animals that draw a lot of attention, namely our leucistic baboons. A large troop of around 50 yellow baboons reside in the woodland surrounding the camp and they are often seen passing through on their quest to find water, food or just somewhere fun to play.
We believe the troop must have a tendency towards pale genetics as in the past year we have spotted three leucistic baby baboons. The first was spotted in February and two others have been seen regularly over the past couple of months.
On each occasion it has been heartwarming to observe how the rest of the troop interacts with the leucistic baby. They all play together and treat these special baboons with complete indifference to the fact that they look different.
Unfortunately, however, the fact that they stand out from the troop puts these baboons at risk as they are more visible targets for predators, especially during the low light of dawn and dusk, reducing their chances of reaching adulthood. The regular yellowy-brown coats help them blend in to their environment. Sadly, we assume that this was the fate of the first baby that we spotted during the green season in the park. We hope that the strong bond between the troop will protect the remaining two leucistic babies.
Watching baboons play is an entertaining and much under-rated experience. It may not be as impressive as watching powerful lions or leopards stalking, or a herd of elephants pass by, but the baboons will have you laughing out loud at their silly antics and is an experience that should be embraced while on safari.
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