Snowflake: The only white gorilla known

Snowflake The only white gorilla known - Culture's Ways

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Snowflake was an albino Western lowland gorilla and the only white gorilla known. He was kept at Barcelona Zoo in Spain from 1966 until his death.



Snowflake was captured in the Rio Muni region in Equatorial Guinea on October 1, 1966 by ethnic Fang farmer Benito Mañé. Mañé had killed the rest of Snowflake’s gorilla group (who were normal in color). Mañé then kept Snowflake at his home for four days before transporting him to Bata, where he was purchased by primatologist Jordi Sabater Pi.


The only white gorilla known was a Western lowland gorilla with non-syndromic oculocutaneous albinism. Snowflake had unpigmented skin and hair. It had poor vision, which is associated with albinism. A test to try to determine whether Snowflake had a central blind spot did not find one.

Study of Snowflake’s genome determined that his parents had 12% of their DNA in common, leading researchers to believe that his parents were uncle and niece. The same study revealed that his albinism was caused by a mutation of SLC45A2 gene. Snowflake received the recessive gene from both parents, causing his albinism.

Life in Barcelona

Upon his arrival to Barcelona in November 1966, he was given an official reception by the then Mayor of Barcelona, Josep Maria de Porcioles and called “Blancanieves” (“Snow White”) in the newspaper Tele/Exprés. But he became famous with the name given to him by Sabater when National Geographic Magazine featured him on the cover in March 1967, with the English name Snowflake. This name spread among the press (Stern, Life, Paris-Match). Sabater himself called the gorilla “Copi” or “Floquet”, and in the later years “Nfumu”. He was also known as “Little Buttercup”, and as the “Vanilla Gorilla”.

At first, the Barcelona Zoo was not aware that Snowflake was a unique specimen. They sent a message to Sabater Pi saying, “Please send more white gorillas.” The zoo later hoped to produce a genetic strain and an entire family group of white gorillas through selective breeding. The Barcelona Zoo had a protocol in place to have Snowflake’s testicles harvested, upon his death, and placed in the frozen zoo so as to reserve the option of having more offspring from him in the future. Snowflake’s genes would have been considered particularly valuable because he was wild caught, and therefore one of the genetic founders to the captive population of Western lowland gorillas, which are endangered, and are being managed by AZA SSP/EEP captive breeding programs for wildlife conservation.

In 1986 the Barcelona Zoo enlisted British zoo veterinarian David Taylor to collect sperm from Snowflake for artificial insemination. Although the attempt was unsuccessful, the story was carried by newspapers the world over.


Death of the only white gorilla known

In 2001, Snowflake was diagnosed with an unusual form of skin cancer, almost certainly related to his albinism condition. By 2003, Snowflake’s health began to deteriorate. After he began losing interest in his usual activities, began isolating himself from other gorillas and began exhibiting signs of physical pain, Snowflake’s keepers decided to euthanize him. The decision was publicly announced in September 2003. Thousands of people visited Snowflake at the Barcelona Zoo before he was euthanized on November 24, 2003. At the time of his death, it was thought to be between 38 and 40 years old.

Image: By Ettore Balocchi CC BY 2.0
Text: Wikipedia contributors. “Snowflake (gorilla).” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 12 Sep. 2017. Web. 21 Oct. 2017.


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