Different is beautiful, let’s just all agree to it. But, there are exceptions, always! Something TOO different makes it scary. We are simply talking about events/situations/ things living or non-living that are different enough to make one stand and stare at least for a second. It could be anything you know? A white-striped tiger, a golden Iberian Lynx, a lion-tailed Macaque, or for the purposes of this article, an albino elephant baby. A 58-year-old man from South Africa, Nicki Coertze, saw this animal on his annual visit to the Kruger National Park. Now, place yourself in his situation. You have been visiting a place for the last 20 years of your life, expecting to see the same old, same old. But instead, you witness something that is an oddity in the region you belong to. How does that make you feel? Surprised? Elated? Wondrous? He felt the same too.

An albino elephant with pink ears might be a welcome sight for humans with binoculars and cameras, but unfortunately, it is also a red glare for humans with guns and animals with claws. Much like every beautiful thing on this planet, it has animals for and against it. And although, being in a National Park might limit human intervention, how is it going to protect itself against animals that are quite possibly bigger than it is at this point.

Dr. Ian Whyte, a specialist of herbivores at Kruger Park talks about how albino wildlife is not exactly as rare as we make it out to be. The reason behind us thinking it is rare is because most of them don’t live for long. Also, it is not really ascertained if this particular ‘albino’ elephant is really an albino or a white elephant, because clearer pictures have not been taken of it. In almost all the pictures, the elephant baby is seen with its eyes partially shielded from the sun, which might actually prove its albinism. For, according to reports, albino creatures don’t have strong eyesight.

Coertze was interested in finding out whether the baby would actually go over to the watering hole and take a drink just like the rest of the elephants, but it never really moved an inch away from its mother. This could be because of this innate knowledge that being away from its mother might be disastrous or maybe, it was still acclimatizing itself to its environment or it was enjoying the shade its mother provided. Another important observation made by Coertze was that the kid wasn’t given special treatment by any elephant on the way. So, discrimination based on color is simply a human trait. Doesn’t that feel nice? To be a part of something that is so ridiculous that even beasts with no rationality don’t partake in?

To get back to the point, experts are divided on whether this baby is actually an albino or simply leucistic. A leucistic animal has white skin but dark eyes and several marks on the body. An albino is different: with absolutely no melanin and no pigments on the eyes and an unblemished body.

Compared to an albino, a white elephant is rare. Also, they aren’t exactly snow white, for they are more reddish-brown, which appears pink when they are wet. Most of their body, including their eyelashes and their toenails are fair too.

Now, let’s delve into the mythological side of albino elephants. For several millennia now, the albino elephant has had a special place in Hindu mythology. ‘Airavata’, the vessel of Indra, is considered to be the King of all Elephants. In Thai culture, albino elephants are symbolic and showcase how powerful the ruler is. When an albino is found, a ceremony is held and the elephant is bestowed to the ruler. It must be noted that the elephant is protected from harm, but never brought under captivity. The present king of Thailand, King Bhumibol Adulyadej has around 10 albino elephants which are a testament to his power over his kingdom. The Burmese culture too associates albino elephants with power. Till 2010, there were 3 albino elephants roaming the borders of Yangoon. The number has since increased to 9 in 2014.

But, why is it considered a rarity in Africa? Well, it is because most albino elephants don’t survive there. The sun, the heat, the climate, the rough terrain; all make it pretty difficult for the elephant who has no skin pigmentation to protect its tissues from getting damaged and it often dies under the cruel heat.

Interestingly, American culture and English culture has turned the term ‘white elephant’ into a phrase, that roughly means something that should always be passed onto someone else for it brings more trouble than its worth. This might have some attached historical significance to it but no one is sure about that. But, what we are all assured of is that it is always used to denote something of great prestige and significance. So maybe, this phrase is actually a result of colonialism where the British saw the importance Asians placed on white elephants and the inevitable bloodshed that came with it.

Everything has its history and we would be facing loss if we didn’t know more about that. And somewhere down the line, history would actually teach us how to take care of things. In this case, it is the albino elephant!