A rare white antelope has been born at Paignton Zoo. The Kafue Flats lechwe calf was born on Sunday 23rd May. She is the first white lechwe born at Paignton Zoo in over 20 years. Her keepers have named her Sethunya, meaning blossom, because of the hawthorn blossom around the paddock. Paignton Zoo spokesperson Phil Knowling said: “The lechwe are shy animals in a large paddock and she is very small, so she may be difficult to see - but she is white so she does stand out. She is a naturally-occurring curiosity – and very lovely!" The youngster’s coloring is due to a double recessive gene that only occurs in females. She is not a true albino as her eyes are blue not pink.
Ghislaine Sayers, Head of Veterinary Services at Paignton Zoo, said:
“In the wild this sort of thing makes animals an easy target for predators and they don’t normally reach breeding age, so the gene is not passed on. Zoo animals are more likely to survive but if they bred it would increase the presence of the gene. If we ever re-introduced white lechwe into the wild we would be increasing the presence of this undesirable gene. When she is older we will use a contraceptive implant..”
The Kafue Flats lechwe (Latin name Kobus leche kafuensis) is an antelope found in parts of Botswana, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Namibia, and Angola. It lives on flood plains and grassland. A single youngster is born after a gestation period of 210 days (7 months).
Many white or albino animals lack their protective camouflage and are unable to conceal themselves from predators, so their survival rate in the wild is usually low. Albinos can have health problems including poor eyesight.
The lechwe is threatened by hunting and habitat destruction. The species is classed as Vulnerable, meaning it has been categorised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as likely to become Endangered unless the circumstances threatening its survival and reproduction improve. The Zoo has a small herd made up of one dominant male, two young males and three females.