Wildlife

Pictures: Special Albinos and Unusually White Animals

From ancient times to the present day, white animals often hold a special place in society.

Sometimes, an animal is born lacking the regular color of its species, which is usually due to a normal, but rare, genetic mutation. These animals can be true albinos, which lack all pigments and have white fur and reddish-pink eyes, or leucistic, with white- or light-colored fur but possessing some other pigments. (Related: “Pictures: Albino Animals Revealed.”)

These unusually white animals are prominent in many cultures’ mythologies; for example, many regard the birth of a white animal as a sacred or auspicious event. Take a look at our roundup of some of these unusual creatures.

1. Kermode “Spirit” Bear

The Kermode bear is a white black bear—a variant of the North American black bear—that lives in British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest.

A photo of a spirit bear
A Kermode bear eats a fish in the rain forest. Photograph by Paul Nicklen, National Geographic.

According to National Geographic magazine, if two black bears that both carry a recessive gene for white fur mate, they may produce a white bear cub.

Hunting white bears has always been taboo for the First Nations people that share the bear’s land, and today the British Columbian government fines hunters $100,000 in Canadian dollars for shooting one of the bears. (See pictures of the Kermode bear.)

White fur occurs in one of every 40 to 100 black bears on British Columbia’s mainland coast, but the trait is more pronounced on some islands in the Great Bear Rainforest. Still, scientists estimate there are only 200 Kermode bears in the world.

2. White Lions 

According to African folklore, white (or blonde) lions have occurred in the Timbavati region of South Africa for hundreds of years. The animals are leucistic, their color the result of a recessive gene.

A photo of white lions.
White lions feed on a gazelle in South Africa’s Sanbona Wildlife Reserve. Photograph by Luciano Candisani, Minden Pictures/Corbis

In myths, white lions are children of the Sun God sent to Earth as divine gifts. Oral traditions recall the special birth of a white lion, heralded by a star that fell to Earth, during Queen Numbi’s reign over 400 years ago.

The first documented sighting of a white lion in Timbavati was in 1938. In 1975, two white lion cubs were taken from the wild to the National Zoo in Pretoria. The roughly 300 white lions in captivity today are selectively bred to be white and are descendants of those lions. (Watch video: “Lion Farming.”)

In 2003, the Global White Lion Protection Trust began reintroducing white lions to Timbavati, and today it is the home of several white lion prides.

However, white lions in captivity can be controversial, not only because the animals are inbred, but also because the zoo oddities serve no purpose other than entertainment, according to some groups.

“They might be ‘cute,’ but [white lions] contribute nothing to increasingly urgent conservation needs of their tawny relatives in the wild,” Pieter Kat, a trustee at the lion-conservation group LionAid, said in a 2013 statement.

3. White Buffalo

White buffalo are not only rare (just one of every ten million buffalo are born white), they are considered sacred by many Native Americans. They may be albino or leucistic.

A photo of a white albino buffalo.
An albino buffalo named Dakota Miracle grazes in 2010 at the National Buffalo Museum in Jamestown, North Dakota. 
Photograph by Karen Bleier, AFP/Getty

According to legend, at a time when the Lakota Sioux were starving due to lack of game, a beautiful woman dressed in white appeared to them. She gave the people a sacred pipe and taught them how to pray and follow the proper path while on Earth. Before leaving, she rolled on the ground four times, changing color each time, until she turned into a white buffalo calf. As she left, great herds of buffalo descended the plains.

The Native American Times reports that the earliest recorded sighting of a white buffalo calf was in 1833. Over the past few decades, they have become more common, with about 20 documented white buffalo calves born since the 1990s.

For many Native Americans, the birth of a sacred white buffalo calf is a sign of hope and an indication of good and prosperous times ahead.

4. White Elephant

Elephants are considered special in Thailand, and white elephants in particular are regarded as sacred and lucky because they are associated with the birth of the Buddha—and because by law, all white elephants belong to the king, according to the Thai government.

A photo of an albino elephant.
A newborn white elephant gets a bath in Naypyidaw, Myanmar (Burma), in 2012. Photograph by Soe Than Win, Getty

Legend holds that the more white elephants found during a king’s reign, the more glorious and prosperous his reign will be. Today, they are commonly thought to bring good luck.

Most white elephants are not truly white or albino, but are paler in color than other elephants.

The expression “white elephant” means a valuable but burdensome possession, which the owner does not want but has difficulty getting rid of.

The saying is thought to have originated from the ancient Thai monarchy practice of giving elephants as gifts. If the king was happy with a subject, he would give him an elephant and some land. But if he was dissatisfied with a subordinate, he would give him only a white elephant. As it was illegal for a royal elephant to work or be sold, this gift would often financially ruin the recipient.

5. Albino Squirrels

The small town of Olney, Illinois, is famous for its albino squirrels. No one is quite sure how it started, but by 1943, the population had reached its peak of about a thousand of the pale squirrels. Today the population holds steady at around 200 animals.

Photo of an albino squirrel.
An albino squirrel. Photograph by Colin McConnell, Toronto Star via Getty

The town holds a squirrel count each fall to make certain that the population is healthy. Albino squirrels have the right of way on all public streets, sidewalks, and thoroughfares in Olney, and there is a $750 fine for running one over with a car. In 1997, the City Council amended its ordinance that prohibited dogs from running free to include cats, as well.

The albino squirrel has been embraced by Olney’s citizens as their town’s symbol: The police department’s badge even has a white squirrel on it.

Have you seen any albino or unusually white animals? Submit them to Your Shot, our  new and improved website, where you can share photos, take part in assignments, lend your voice to stories, and connect with fellow photographers from around the globe. To share your photos of albino animals, use #albino when you upload your images.

Follow Mary Bates on Twitter and Facebook.

Mary Bates is a freelance science writer living in Boston. She has a PhD in psychology from Brown University where she studied bat echolocation. You can visit her website at www.marybateswriter.com and follow her on Twitter at @mebwriter.
  • Carli

    Can we not forget white kiwi birds?
    I believe that the Maori highly value the white kiwi birds found a few years ago. Several more have been hatched with Project Nest Egg in New Zealand, with one named Manukura the white kiwi having her own Facebook page.

  • esther

    Belle Isle of Detroit, still has a few of its white deer left.

  • Omar

    There is also the beautiful Migaloo, the white humpback whale in Australia.

  • Jeremy

    i havent seen any white animals but I’ve seen a large number of deer with Canine teeth.

  • Lucy Marcus

    There is a white alligator at the San Francisco Academy of Sciences. Also a bird rehab project in Colorado has a white eagle, but its very controversial, some people think it should not be in captivity, but the sun damages its feathers so much that it can’s survive in the wild.

  • Sam

    My grandfather toke a picture of a white moose a few years back

  • Eva

    Let’s not forget about the extremely rare albino peacock i found it at one of the zoos in France it was so pretty

    Eva

  • AJ

    The Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, LA has a white alligator in the swamp exhibit. Their is at least one in an alligator farm about an hour north of New Orleans. We also had an albino DOLPHIN in Louisiana not close to New Orleans but it was actually looked pink (maybe a toxin turned it pink? not sure why it was pink bu the media called it albino). We also have pink Katydids at the Audubon INsectarium that might be considered albino or similar.

  • PARTH DAVE

    I have seen white dolphins!!

  • PARTH DAVE

    I have seen white TIGERS BUT IT IS A CROSS BREED… AND SNAKES ALSO

  • 1neruby

    White squirrels are common in a town called Brevard, in the mountains of North Carolina. The town reveres them. They are quite a sight to see.

  • James

    There’s a white meerkat in adelaide zoo. Recent depigmentation of unknown origin.

  • Alfred

    Hello National Geographic, Naypyidaw is in Myanmar.. NOT IN THAILAND… The white elephant born in Myanmar… You don’t even know where is Naypyidaw than pposted wrongly… How Bad!

  • EMMA DANIELS

    THE JAPANESE HAVE CAPTURED A BABY ALBINO DOLPHIN AND HAVE KILLED HER MOTHER, HER NAME IS ANGEL AND SHE IS SURVIVING IN A TINY TANK 🙁 IN TAIJI

  • Jonas Reveche Malabrigo

    Pls check the Philippine White squirrel and see what you can do to save this unique creatures. thanks

  • Scotty.licious

    I once saw a white cat.

  • Jay Arellano

    Loved this article, especially the info on the white buffalo. Just as an note: Naypyidaw is the capital of Myanmar, not a city in Thailand as the white elephant photo suggests… odd thing to misprint (unless there is a city by the same name in Thailand and I’m just off).

  • Roxanne Todish

    We have a famous albino squirrel that lives at Trinity Bellwoods Park in Toronto. Wish I could upload a couple of my photos because not only is he friendly, he’s also a beauty!! 🙂

  • Emile

    Naypyitaw is not found in Thailand, it is the capital of Myanmar (Burma) where white elephants are taken cared of.

    • Christine Dell’Amore

      Fixed, thanks Emile.

  • Selcuk Atac

    If Albino Bisons are 1/10 000 000, then where are the other 9999 999.?

  • Seb

    I’ve seen a white kangaroo. It’s a male & has the same size like a male redkangaroo, very impressive & absolutely beautiful… The shape of their face is completely different to all the other kinds. I think there is just a little population of them in South Australia.

    • Christine Dell’Amore

      Thanks Seb. Do you have a picture you’d like to share with us? cdellamo@ngs.org.

  • tes

    The white gorilla snowflake is a well known gorilla but he died a few years ago. and I have a albino snake named seth.

  • tes

    o yes, I forgot there lived a white crow in antwerp where I used to live. his baby’s where black with white feathers in their wings. looked very special!

  • Jorge

    Coco was an albino gorilla in a zoo in Barcelona Spain, I think he past away a few years ago.

  • Argyi

    Their is also an albino benet wallaby/kangaroo at the Zoo in Paphos, Cyprus

  • SHRIYANSH

    NAYPYIDAW IS NOT IN THAILAND (CAPTION ON PHOTO 4)

    • Christine Dell’Amore

      Fixed.

  • Rueben

    Hi, there is a huge mistake in the post. Naypidaw is a city in Myanmar, not Thailand. Please update the correction, thank you NG.

    • Christine Dell’Amore

      Got it!

  • Krishna

    You forgot Beluga Whale

  • Guillermo Esteves

    I saw pictures by Flip Nicklin some time ago of a white sperm whale.

  • Val Mari

    I have seen a white praying mantis in a meadow in Northern Italy. She also seemed smaller than normal.

  • Camilo

    About pink dolphins, you can find them in the Amazonas (Leticia, Colombia). They are not albinos just an other kink of dolphins. They are beautiful 🙂

  • Cyrielle

    Albino peacocks! They have such a hard time because the femals are appealed to colored males…
    http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Albino_peacock.jpg

  • Shell

    You get leucistic bottlenosed & pacific white sided dolphins. You also get white sperm whales. I’m sure leucism occurs in about 7% of most mammal species, as does the opposite which is melanism. I’ve seen melanistic gabar goshawks, they are pure black apart from the white band on their tails. 7% of gabar goshawks are melanistic. Stunning!

    • Thanks for sharing – the melanistic goshawks sound beautiful!

  • Lynne stewart

    I saw a white porcupine in Maine a few years ago.

  • Keith

    You’ll also find the white squirrels in Brevard, North Carolina where they are also a town mascot.

  • Bart H. Broertjes

    Ochlockonee River State Park (Florida) has white squirrels as well. Quite easy to spot.

  • RADHAKRISHNAN

    I like the rules by the authorities in Onley to save the White Squirrels. I wish every single place on earth has such strict rules to save the animals.

  • Doug Gimesy

    And lets not forget some rare white marsupials found in Australia e.g. Kangaroo, wombat,

  • Luis R Padilla

    “Naypyidaw” or Nay Pyi Taw is actually in Myanmar, not in Thailand. It is the capital of Myanmar as of 2005, when it replaced Yangon. This is an error that I wouldn’t expect to see in National Geographic website!

    • Christine Dell’Amore

      Got it. Getty Images provided the incorrect information.

  • John

    Dont also forget human albinos. (Albinism) not americans, european , etc but i mean here in Philippines there are some who has a case of albinism.

  • Eric Rose

    Two albino American Alligators, Snowball and Snowflake, at Newport Aaqarium in Newport Kentucky. They are second generation offspring from naturally found wild animals.

  • Matthieu

    white kangaroos (Bordertown -SA or Maria Island -TAS) !!

  • Impressed

    Washington DC has a white squirrel. I came up on it te other day and it surprised me because right next to it was a black squirrel and the contrast was interesting as I am only used to grey squirrels. I loved seeing them as they are both rare. They brought me good luck that day.

  • Tanya

    Had the privilege to see and photograph an albino squirrel this summer in Arkansas

    • Christine Dell’Amore

      Thanks Tanya. Can you email me the picture if you’re willing to share it? cdellamo@ngs.org.

  • Stefan Pang

    You wrote “Naypyidaw, Thailand” for the location where the photo of the white elephant was taken. It should be “Naypyidaw, Myanmar” instead.

    • Christine Dell’Amore

      Fixed, thanks Stefan.

  • Ashley Courtney Jones

    The white raven, Haida Gwaii..

  • Luiza

    What about Mingaloo? The white humpback whale in Australia. He is amazing! =)

  • Vira

    Albino gorilla that was on exhibit at Barcelona Zoo several years ago.

  • Cathy Hennessy

    Just got back from the Georgia Aquarium where they have a white alligator in one of their habitats.
    We also have white squirrels all over Brevard, NC. They are not albinos however and it is argued that they are a separate species of squirrel.

  • Jessie Paquette

    We had a white squirrel in our back yard for two years It would come to our patio door and scratch the sceen for us to feed it
    Our grand kids loved it They thought we had painted it white

  • Wendy

    A little town in Ontario called Exeter is also home to an unknown number of white squirrels. My mom made friends with a few of them 🙂

  • Eva

    I’ve seen albino Whit-tailed deer in Western Pennsylvania. I come from a family full of avid hunters & it’s common knowledge that it’s bad luck to shoot one. So, I’m happy to report that Ive only ever seen them grazing, tails flickering in beautiful Pennsylvania settings.

    • That must be some sight – thanks for sharing!

    • Christine Dell’Amore

      Thanks Eva. Do you have a picture you’d be willing to share? cdellamo@ngs.org.

  • Bori Hajnalka

    I have seen white snake!!!

  • Ed

    We have a number of white squirrels in the neighborhood descended from one white one noticed @ 10 years ago.

    • Christine Dell’Amore

      Thanks Ed. Do you have a picture you’d be willing to share? cdellamo@ngs.org.

  • Gregory K Cummins

    We had an albino moose hanging around Delta Junction, Alaska.

    http://www.alaskadispatch.com/article/white-moose-delta-junction-spotted-again

    • Christine Dell’Amore

      Cool! Do you or anyone you know have a photo that we could use on our website? My email is cdellamo@ngs.org.

  • Courtney

    I have seen a white deer just outside of NYC. It was grazing with it’s heard by the highway. It took a few looks to realize what I had seen!

  • Marcia Maia

    Saw a white cockroach in my garden.

  • Matt

    In Cape Town we have a fair population of albino squirrels in the City centre and outer suburbs.
    I have also seen a albino vervet monkey near the Kruger National Park area.

    • Christine Dell’Amore

      Thanks Matt. Do you have photos of albino squirrels or the monkey that you’d be willing to share with us? My email is cdellamo@ngs.org.

  • Christina

    I saw a white deer in Exton pa peeking through the bushes on the side of the road. Very beautiful.

    • Christine Dell’Amore

      Thanks Christina. Did you take a picture that you’d want to share? My email is cdellamo@ngs.org.

  • Aaron

    I once saw (and took terrible photos of) a white Roosevelt Elk, when i was a kid. It wasn’t truly white and was closer to a light grey towards it’s rump. There was actually several sightings of the Elk around the county that year. Local rumor has it that someone must have shot it during hunting season.

  • Erin
  • Sue McKenzie

    White Adult Bull Giraffe photographed by Reinhard Kunkel in the Masai- Mara Game Reserve Kenya? 1970-1980

  • Shelley Durant matchett

    The elders from the frist nation aboriginals BELEIVE and to this still that the white animals are spirit animals where be white buffalo or bear elephant … They are called spirit animal which no kne is allowed to kill those white animals

  • David Maxi

    Naypyidaw is in MYANMAR. And these white elephants are from Myanmar (Burma). There are NO (NOT EVEN SINGLE) white elephants in Thailand.

  • Dave Reade

    My Dad and I were at the tail end of a motorcycle trip to Alaska in the summer of 2011. Cruising down the Stewart-Cassiar Highway in northern British Columbia, I spotted a white Kermode bear in the ditch amongst some bushes. I slammed the brakes on and grabbed my camera. I could see her with two cubs (both of which were black) as walked back along the pavement. I got my camera ready for a shot but the moment my feet hit the gravel shoulder, she startled and took off. I didn’t get the shot, but I’ll never forget seeing that beautiful bear and her two cubs. It was a highlight of the trip.

    • Wow, what an amazing experience! Not many people get to see Kermode bears in the wild like that.

  • Stacie

    Wonderful information.. but as always – you forgot SUMO!!

    http://sumothedog.com/

    https://www.facebook.com/sumo.cane

    everyone always forgets sumo the dog 🙁

    • Christine Dell’Amore

      Thanks Stacie. Do you have a photo of Sumo you could email us for possible use on the website? My email is cdellamo@ngs.org.

  • Tonnina

    In Cañon City, CO the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park owns a small Buffalo herd with a large majestic White Male. He sires all the babies born to all the brown females. in 2013 we had a bad BAD fire and lost basically EVERYTHING in the park except for the bridge. The females were in the middle of the birthing season… so far 2 had been born and they were brown… then a red baby was born after the fire and then, finally as a beacon of hope, a WHITE calf was born! They all survived the fire, and are now moved to an open plains area awaiting the rebuilding of the park.

    • Christine Dell’Amore

      Cool Tonnina. Do you have any photos you’d want to share with our website? My email is cdellamo@ngs.org.

  • Rachel

    I saw an albino raccoon with several “normal” kits following her! She was a beauty!:) Location: Gainesville, Florida

    • Christine Dell’Amore

      Thanks Rachel. Do you have a photo you’d want to share with us? My email is cdellamo@ngs.org.

  • Lona

    Had a white skunk that visited our property for about two years.

    • Christine Dell’Amore

      Cool Lona. Do you have a picture you’d want to share with our website? My email is cdellamo@ngs.org. Thanks!

  • zabarjad

    All those special animals shown here are just a tiny instances of Allah’s mighty greatness. So read the Quran and u guys will find how peaceful it is deep inside your soul. Not everything can be explain scientifically but believe me you will find the answer in the Quran my friend

  • Tone

    Once I saw an albino magpie, all white w/ light brown accents

  • Cecy Aceves

    I hav white cockroaches….Ewww been trying to get rid of them…

  • Karen

    We had a pure white Red Tailed Hawk living on our property for a couple of years.

    • Christine Dell’Amore

      Karen, do you have a picture of the red-tailed hawk you’d want to share on our website? My email address is cdellamo@ngs.org. Thanks.

  • Abbie Goyette

    In Emporia, Ks we had a white Robin that made one particular street its home for a couple of years. It was the strangest thing we’d ever seen!

    • Christine Dell’Amore

      Do you have a picture of the robin you’d want to share on our website, Abbie? Thanks! The address is cdellamo@ngs.org.

  • Ashley

    There was an albino buck where I used to live in Maine he was protected and hunters were unable to shoot him. I never saw it but he was often spotted by others

  • Lily

    There is a white peacock that shows up at the Pueblo zoo every year and the Royal Gorge Park has white buffalo.

  • Madonna

    I have seen a white raven, and the white moose too.

  • Cherry

    Yes, I have seen the albino cockroach. But there is only one of it among the bunch of regular cockroaches.

  • Lisa

    There is a community of white squirrels that live in the trees in Tappan Square at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, USA.

  • cul8rAnnieGator

    http://www.edmontonjournal.com/touch/story.html?id=9483579
    Here in Edmonton, Alberta we have an unusually large population of albino magpies. White and pale grey, they are quite beautiful to look at.

    • They are quite beautiful – thanks for sharing the link!

    • Christine Dell’Amore

      Thanks Anne. Might you have a picture you’d want to share on our website? My email is cdellamo@ngs.org.

  • Victoria

    Our museum of natural history as an albino northern ring snake http://canadianfieldnaturalist.ca/index.php/cfn/article/viewFile/1381/1377

    • Very cool – thanks for sharing!

    • Christine Dell’Amore

      Hey Victoria, very cool! Do you have a picture of the snake you could send us? We’re planning on doing another roundup of albino-animal pictures taken by readers. The address is cdellamo@ngs.org. Thanks!

  • Heather Davidson

    We live in Ontario Canada and my parents have two white squirrels living in their backyard. The grey squirrels chase them away from the bird feeder they all eat seeds at

    • Christine Dell’Amore

      Thanks Heather. If you have a picture, can you email it to us at cdellamo@ngs.org? Thanks!

  • matochi

    I saw an albino armadillo near my house some years ago, sadly it had been hit by a car.

  • Lisa cooper
    • Christine Dell’Amore

      Is that your photo Lisa? If so, can you email it to us at cdellamo@ngs.org? Thanks.

  • Meroki

    I have an albino friend.

  • Mel

    White/Albino Annoying Roaches(ugh!), White Bat, White mountain rat or mouse??? I was too far. White Snake Head(but was cooked after my friend caught it) and three humans siblings.

  • David

    When I was a kid in my parent hometown at west Borneo island of Indonesia I always joined with my friends after school equiped with a plastic basket go to nearby swamp in our backyard to catch Warrior fish or Siamese Fighting fish or Betta fish Westeners used to call because we coudn’t afford to buy a beautifully bred with long flamboyant tail Betta fish at local freshwater aquarium fish shop because it’s expensive for us. This little agresive fish is popular among children or even adult as a pet in small aquarium or small bowl,known for it’s vibrant colours of metallic red,green or blue with it’s black head,but our goal is to catch the albino Betta fish,because it’s very rare to find in the wild,they still had their beautiful colors but their head and body is pale and in light pink,So we called it albino Warrior fish.
    Later when we grow up we finally could afford to buy it at freshwater aquarium fish shop,especially the specially bred long tailed albino Betta fish with many selection of colors to choose.

  • Laura

    Saw a white Red Hawk hunting in a freeway median. Couldn’t see it well enough to determine if it was albino or leucistic, but it was beautiful.

    • Christine Dell’Amore

      Thanks Laura. Do you have a picture? If so please send it in! cdellamo@ngs.org.

  • Sally

    3 albinos out of 7 children in my paternal grandfather’s personal family, creamy hair but grey tinted eyes. Don’t know of any repeats of this in the whole extended family. But one member developed a white front streak at age 12 and greyed hair early in life. Everyone in family has astigmatism. Don’t know anything else about this history. All former pictures of family, going back to the early 1800s, reveal no albinos. A mystery!

  • Sao Gould

    A few people already mentioned about the caption wrong for the white Elephant! NayPyiDaw is now the capital of Myanmar. Not Thailand! Photographer Soe Than Win is also Burmese name. Can’t believe wrong country name on NATGO! and has anyone noticed the mistake or just not bother to correct it???

    • Christine Dell’Amore

      Thanks Sao, it’s corrected now. The information provided with the photo from Getty was incorrect.

  • Have you seen an unusual white or albino animal? Send your photos to cdellamo@ngs.org and they might be featured in a follow-up post!

  • Dawn

    When I was growing up in the 80’s there was a white giraffe at the Denver zoo. not sure if I still have pics. And my son has an albino algae eater in his fish tank

  • Manda

    I emailed pictures of the white buffalos we had the pleasure of seeing. I also sent you pictures of two baby white camels. I’m not sure if they fit the criteria of albino or leucistic but I hope you enjoy them as much as we did.

  • Sue deBrouwer

    I have pictures of albino alligators when we lived in Florida and an albino giraffe at the Denver Zoo about 18 years ago.

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