Planet Earth is home to approximately 8.7 million species – with 6.5 million species on land and 2.2 million in the oceans. Scientists from the Census of Marine Life came to this conclusion using a new and advanced analytical technique. However, when we consider the fact that 95% of the ocean is unexplored, there could be many more species that are yet to be discovered. Earlier this month, National Geographic photographer Sergio Pitamitz came across an unusual find during his visit at the Serengeti National Park. While albino animals are rare and often not seen in the wild for long, “blonde” zebras, or zebras that are striped white and a sort of golden-yellow color are extremely rare.
The discovery was made on February 17, 2019, by National Geographic photographer Sergio Pitamitz, who was hoping to take some pictures of migrating zebras at the Serengeti National Park.
“At first I thought it was a zebra that had rolled in the dust”, Pitamitz told National Geographic, whom he is a photographer for. During his trip, Pitamitz spotted the unusually colored zebra but thought it was just dirty. However, he soon realized that what he had stumbled upon was something other than just dust. According to Daily Mail UK, the golden zebra at the Serengeti National Park is the first-ever documented wild sighting.
The golden-colored zebra likely has partial albinism, a condition very rarely seen in zebras, confirm several scientists, including Greg Barsh, a geneticist at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology.
This means that the animal has significantly less melanin (a natural pigment found in skin) than typical zebras; which is what gives them the pale color. Not only are albino animals hard to find, they have a hard time surviving in the wild since their unusual color gives them away easily.
Despite some reported sightings in the wild, they’ve only been confirmed to exist in captivity.
The sighting indicates that the genetic variant responsible for partial albinism may be distributed more widely, in and around Kenya, than we were aware of before. – says Greg Barsh to MSN. He also adds; Pitamitz’s photographs “provide confirmation that animals with the condition can survive in the wild [and] that they are seemingly accepted by ‘normal’ zebras.”
According to scientists, the black and white stripes play a key role in a zebra’s life. Studies show that the stripes work to ward off hoards of biting flies that the animals come in contact with on a daily basis and without the protection, blonde zebras can be vulnerable to the pesky insects. Besides protecting themselves from the flies, the stripes also work as a camouflage to deter predators.
Tim Caro, an evolutionary ecologist at the University of California, Davis, who has extensively studied the relationship between zebra stripes and biting flies, told MSN that it’s possible the lightly colored stripes wouldn’t deter flies as successfully as regular black stripes.
Studies conducted on animals with partial albinism shows that they have a hard time surviving. While the studies were conducted on domestic animals or animals in captivity, scientists were unable to determine the effects when it comes to being in the wild. For Sergio Pitamitz, capturing images of the golden zebra was like winning the lottery, since scientists are now able to see how animals with such conditions are accepted by their herd.
Here are some fun facts about zebras:
- The pattern of black and white stripes are unique with each zebra. No two zebras have the same markings.
- Contrary to the popular belief, a zebra is actually mostly covered in white and striped with black or dark brown stripes.
- A group of zebras is called a ‘zeal’.
- Zebras bunch together to confuse colorblind predators, such as lions, which mistake the pattern as grass.
- To sleep, zebras generally do not lie down – instead they usually sleep standing up.
- Zebras also recognize each other on the basis of their stripes.
It’s nice to see that there are unique individuals in the animal kingdom and that fellow animals accept them for who they are. If only us humans could learn a thing or two from them and accept other human beings and not be bothered by their differences.