An albino panda has been spotted in the Wolong National Nature Reserve in Wenchuan county, Sichuan province.
The reserve’s administrative bureau issued a photo of the all-white panda on Saturday, showing it passing through a lush forest.
The photo, believed to be the world’s first image of an albino panda, taken in the wild, and clearly shows the all-white body and paws of the panda captured by an infrared camera around 2,000 meters above sea level in the reserve.
The only part of the panda’s body that is not white are its eyes, which are red, the bureau said.
Analyzing the photo of the panda taken in mid-April, experts from the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda agreed that the panda is an albino. The gender of the animal has yet to be determined.
Judging from its size, they estimate, it is a juvenile between 1 to 2 years of age.
“A panda becomes an adult at the age of 4. One year for a panda is the equivalent of about 3.5 years for a human,” said Wang Lun, an official at the center.
Albinism exists in various vertebrates, but it is rare. It is usually caused by genetic mutations in which melanin cannot be synthesized normally, with skin and body hair expressed as white, yellowish-white or light-yellow.
Simple “albinism” mutations do not affect the normal body structure and physiological functions of animals, and have no significant impact on their activities and reproduction except that they are more easily spotted in the wild and their body is more sensitive to direct sunlight, said Li Sheng, a researcher with the School of Life Sciences at Peking University.
Li, a bear specialist at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, has studied the image of the all-white panda.
The panda is the first all-white individual photographed, suggesting that there is an albinism mutation gene in the regional panda population in the reserve, according to the specialist.
The panda looks strong, and its steps are steady, a sign that the genetic mutation does not affect its daily life, he said.
Albino mutations can be inherited. Each animal has two sets of genes from its parents.
Only when the genes from both parents contain the same mutation do offspring show characteristics of albinism.
Duan Zhaogang, Party secretary of Wolong’s administrative bureau, said that the reserve will install more infrared cameras in the region where the all-white panda was spotted.
If its offspring can be photographed, it will be valuable for further research, he said.