Rare Albino Baby Chimp Spotted in Wild Days Before Being Killed

For the first time on record, researchers in Uganda spotted an albino baby chimp interacting with other chimps in the wild. Several days after the sighting, however, the chimp was killed by the elders of the community.

The scientists documented the encounter in a study published on July 16 in the American Journal of Primatology. According to their research, only a few instances of albinism in "non-human primates" have been observed in the wild: Toque macaques, Bonnet macaques and spider monkeys.

As far as great apes are concerned, only two instances of albinism have been observed: a male western lowland gorilla — who was captured in the wild as an infant and kept in captivity for the remainder of his life — and a female western chimpanzee, who was also captured and kept in captivity.

Because both apes were captured, researchers say that there have been no known observations of an ape with albinism interacting with others in its natural environment. That is, until now.

"We could actually document the behaviour of chimpanzees towards this individual," said Maël Leroux of the University of Zurich in Switzerland according to New Scientist.

Sadly, the interactions between the chimpanzees and the infant were not pleasant.

In January 2018, a young adult female dubbed UP was confirmed to be pregnant. On July 15 of that same year, she was spotted carrying a white infant.

On the morning of the 15th, several adult chimpanzees approached UP and the baby. The chimps produced "alarm hoos and waa barks," which are calls typically made by chimps upon encountering potential threats, such as snakes, bush pigs or unfamiliar humans. One of the adult males charged UP and hit her before climbing a tree to watch UP and the infant from a distance. Eventually, UP and her baby disappeared into dense vegetation.

Several days later, on July 19, Leroux and a colleague found a group of chimpanzees again producing alarm calls and waa barks. The chimps were hidden within a dense thicket, rendering it impossible for researchers to determine which chimps were gathered; however, because of the screams, observers knew that an "aggressive interaction" was taking place among the group.

Leroux and his colleague also heard an infant's screams coming from the group.

A few moments later, the alpha male — dubbed HW — emerged from the thicket "holding the infant with albinism screaming against his belly with his right hand." The infant's left forearm was missing.

Adult chimpanzees took turns approaching the infant and biting its limbs, and within minutes, the baby chimp was dead.

Though it might at first seem that the infant was killed because of its albinism, Leroux notes in the study that the community has a history of infanticide.

"It is, therefore, possible that the infant with albinism would have become a victim of infanticide regardless of its appearance."

However, the behavior of the adult chimps towards the infant was unusual.

"Community members of both sexes often show signs of curiosity towards a newborn upon first sighting, such as grooming the mother or looking attentively at the newborn, touching, or grooming it," he says in the study.

"While individuals can respond to such events with excitement or aggression, particularly in the study community where infanticides are common, interactions which included apparent fear towards a newborn are unusual and have not been observed to the same extent as seen on this occasion," he continues.

The study provides unique insight into the behavior of chimpanzees in "extremely rare social circumstances," and can be referenced should another albino chimp be spotted in the wild.

baby chimps
A rare albino baby chimp was spotted in the wild just days before it was killed by the community's elders. DESIREY MINKOH / Stringer/Getty