White elephant spotted in Sri Lanka

[TamilNet, Saturday, 31 July 2004, 11:31 GMT]
A rare albino elephant has been spotted roaming Sri Lanka's Ruhunu National Park, the first recorded sighting in the country, the website nature.com reported.

White Elephant
(Photo by Dr.P.Fernando)
The pale-skinned pachyderm, thought to be around 11 years old, lives with a 17-strong herd of adult females and youngsters.

"This is a rare and excellent opportunity for research," says Dayananda Kariyawasam, director-general of the Department of Wildlife Conservation in Sri Lanka, which is now monitoring the animal's progress.

The elephant, named Sue after the Sinhalese word for 'white', has been seen several times in the past few weeks.

"She's just hanging around," says veterinary surgeon Vijitha Berera from the Centre for Conservation and Research in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where the sightings were made. "We hope that she might be pregnant," he adds.

There were rumours of sightings of an albino elephant in the same area about seven years ago, although its existence was never confirmed. Berera believes this to be the same animal.

Albinism is extremely rare in the wild. The condition arises when the body fails to produce melanin, the pigment that gives hair, skin and eyes their colour. A variety of genetic mutations lead to the condition, which crops up occasionally in birds, reptiles and mammals.

Researchers are hoping to test dung from the albino elephant to determine which mutation she has.

Berera hopes that the recent discovery will remain safe. "Most people believe that white elephants bring good luck, so she should be left alone," he says.

External Links:
Nature: White elephant spotted in Sri Lanka


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