An albino Galápagos giant tortoise has stunned zoo keepers in Servion, Switzerland, who report that such an animal has never before been seen in the wild or captivity. The world-first albino baby is not yet living up to its “giant” status, as Live Science reports it weighs just 50 grams (1.8 ounces) but has already stirred up a big fuss in the world press.
The Galápagos giant tortoise hatchling emerged from its egg with a pale complexion and red eyes, two features of albinism – an inherited genetic disorder that affects the production of melanin which is what gives skin, hair, and eyes their color. The hatchling, therefore, has a very unique appearance, with a shell and skin devoid of pigment creating an off-white, almost yellow color.
Albinism is rare among species, but for some it’s more likely than others. Tropiquarium, the Swiss zoo where the tortoise hatched, says that humans’ likelihood of being born with albinism is roughly one in 20,000, whereas for tortoises it’s one in 100,000. That makes their newest, pearly resident quite the rarity indeed.
The albino baby hatched as a twin with its sibling emerging from its egg in the more typical hues of the Galápagos giant tortoise species Chelonoidis nigra.
Both siblings came into the world on February 11, 2022, from a 100-kilogram (220-pound) female and clambered out of their eggs in May. They are now chilling with their mom, which presented an opportunity to snap a few pictures that really demonstrate the dramatic size difference of the babies, and the dramatically different coloration of the hatchling compared to its family.
While albinism disrupts the production of melanin, humans and animals born with the condition are at greater risk of sun damage and, in turn, developing skin cancer. In the wild, this would hamper the hatchlings' chances of survival, putting them at greater risk of developing disease as well as potentially making it easier to spot for predators.
The albino Galápagos giant tortoise hatchling will remain under the care of Tropiquarium who can try to limit the animal’s sun exposure, as the animal is as rare as it is precious. Galápagos giant tortoises’ wild populations are in big trouble as a result of human interference which is why breeding programs such as that which produced our wee pearly tortoise are so important.
There was recently a small win for this group of tortoises as an “extinct” species of Galápagos giant tortoise was recently found chilling on its own on a remote, volcanic island, making for just the second sighting of the species since it was first described in 1906. Casual.