World's only all-white panda's new gilded look
The world's only all-white panda surfaced again in southwest China's Sichuan Province, with a brand-new look of golden-white fur all over, as videos released on Friday by local authorities showed.
The distinctive creature burst into sight after infrared cameras captured its figure about 2,000 meters above sea level in the Wolong National Nature Reserve in April 2019. With no spots on its body and unique red eyes, the wild giant panda was concluded to be an albino, hitherto the only one of its kind anywhere on earth.
In February 2020, the long-lost panda was once again spotted in the reserve rambling in a snowfield and making brief occasional stops as if absorbed in deep thought.
After three days of trekking across forests and brooks, it was then caught on cameras set up about 1 km away on a mountain ridge. It took the panda about 10 minutes to reach the foot of the mountain before it vanished into the unknown.
"It has grown up a lot and has a sturdy physique. Judging from pictures, the panda is now about three years old and the snow-white fur of its limbs has become tinged with a golden hue," said Tan Yingchun with the reserve's protection and research project on the white giant panda.
Since the albino panda acted alone in both pieces of video footage, the researchers with the reserve believe that it has left the nest, living on its own away from its mother.
The videos have shown that the white panda was in good shape with lustrous fur, said Li Sheng, a researcher with Peking University and a specialist in bears. Li also explained that albinism exists in different vertebrate species and the albino mutation can inhibit melanin synthesis in an animal's body, making the animal appear white, golden-white or pastel golden.
The albino mutation is a recessive gene. Only when the parent pandas both carry the gene can the baby show the albino traits.
Albinism usually does not affect the animal's physical makeup and functions. However, it may make the animal easier to be discovered and more sensitive to direct sunlight. It is a delight to see the wild all-white panda grow up safe and sound, as it indicates that the chubby creature has basically adapted to the local living environment, according to Li.
"Since it disappeared into the wild again, the animal may have migrated from its birthplace to the surrounding habitats, which is normal for adult female pandas. Therefore, it is likely to be a female wild panda who left her mother's domain in search of a new habitat," Li said.
In order to further learn about the distribution of the albino mutation in the local wild panda population, the reserve plans to expand its scientific monitoring scope and adopt technologies including DNA testing to look for new clues.
Whether the albino mutation affects the giant panda's physical condition remains an unsolved mystery. Researchers hope to further study the topic so as to enhance humanity's understanding of the ancient species and better protect the giant panda.
The reserve has carried out a research and protection project and installed infrared cameras in an area of about 15 square km surrounding where the rare all-white panda was first discovered for follow-up studies on the creature.
Easily recognized by black patches around their eyes, over the ears and across their round body, giant pandas often live in the mountains of Sichuan Province as well as Gansu and Shaanxi provinces. From 2016 to 2020, the population of wild giant pandas in China has risen to 1,864, according to the National Forestry and Grassland Administration.