Snowflake, the rare albino gorilla

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Snowflake, rare albino gorilla

Snowflake (Copito de Nieve), the rare albino gorilla that was at Barcelona Zoo, photo dated Feb 9, 2003 - wallpaper size 1024 x 768

Snowflake was a Western Lowland Albino Gorilla (subspecies: Gorilla g. gorilla) that lived in Barcelona Zoo from November 1966 to November 24, 2003.

Though albinism theoretically can affect all vertebrates including humans, there are no recorded cases to show that albinos ever existed among gorillas, prior to or after Snowflake who is the only albino gorilla known to have existed on earth. The world came to know of albinism in gorillas after Snowflake became a very popular resident of the Barcelona Zoo in Spain.

The Western Lowland Gorillas, a subspecies of the Western Gorilla, live in the forests and lowland swamps in/ around the Central/ West African countries such as Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, the Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea.

The males of this subspecies of apes can grow to a standing height of 5 to 6 feet (about 152 cm to 183 cm) and weigh up to 300 to 600 pounds (about 136 kg to 272 kg). The females are of smaller build than the males with their heights reaching up to 5 feet (about 152 cm) and may weigh only half the weight of their male counterparts.

Albinism, also known as achromatosis or achromia, is a congenital defect or genetic disorder that affects all vertebrates including humans. It is typically caused by the absence or inadequate presence of the melanin pigment in the skin, hair and eyes. While an albino suffers from the total absence of melanin, an albinoid will have partial absence of melanin.

Albinism is known to cause health hazards including (but not limited to) vision defects, photophobia, sunburns and skin cancers. The white gorilla Snowflake suffered from photophobia and he fought against skin cancer triggered by albinism in the last two years of his life before he was put to death by euthanasia on November 24, 2003.

Snowflake suffered from oculocutaneous albinism type 1 (or OCA1), which is never reported to have affected any of the two species (and subspecies) of the eponymous genus Gorillas, excepting the only one reported case of albinism in the albino gorilla in the photo above. But, OCA1 is widely reported among humans (Homo sapiens) of all ethnic and geographic orientations. It is caused by the malfunction of the enzyme called tyrosinase, which plays a major role in the synthesis of melanin.

And interestingly, the DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) where genetic and evolutionary information is stored, of gorillas (genus: Gorilla) is astonishingly similar to the DNA of humans (Genus: Homo), both of whom belong to the same taxonomic family known as The Hominidae or Hominids, also known as the Great Apes. The other two extant genera of apes that are more closely related to humans are chimpanzees (Pan) and orangutans (Pongo).

Snowflake was captured from the equatorial forests of Nko in the former Spanish Guinea (now Equatorial Guinea) in 1966 by a farmer from whom the gorilla was purchased by the Ape Specialist Jordi Sabater Pi who was working for the Barcelona Zoo.

The baby Albino gorilla, believed to be two years old then, was shipped to Spain. After his arrival in Barcelona Zoo in November 1966, he was named Blancanieves (Snow white). But he became an international celebrity with the name Snowflake (Copito de Nieve in Spanish) after March 1967 when the National Geographic Magazine featured him on its main page.

Though gorillas in the wild are reported to live for about 25 years, Snowflake was believed to be 38 to 40 years old when he died. He fathered 22 children born to three black female gorillas and had a number of grandchildren. But none of his children or grandchildren was an albino.

On 7 April 2005, the Minor Planet Center named a Main Belt Asteroid (discovered by J. Manteca at Begues in Catalonia, Spain, and provisionally designated 2003 WZ87) as Asteroid (95962) Copito, named after Snowflake to honor him.

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