Snowflake, the only albino gorilla known to man, was a star at the Barcelona Zoo for decades.
Now Spanish researchers say they have determined that Snowflake’s albinism was the result of inbreeding.
After carrying out genome sequencing on Snowflake’s remains, researchers at Barcelona’s Institute of Evolutionary Biology have concluded that his albinism was caused by a “mutation of the SLC45A2 gene” which was transmitted to him by both parents, according to Agence France-Presse.
“Genes causing albinism are recessive. That is, to be albino, you have to have the two chromosomes with the mutation for albinism,” Tomas Marques, the director of the team that carried out the study, told the wire service.
Snowflake’s grandfather probably carried the recessive albino genes, Marques said.
Then two of his descendants probably paired off – a rare case where an animal receives two recessive albino genes, one from each parent – and the result was Snowflake, an albino gorilla.
Snowflake was captured in Equatorial Guinea, a former Spanish colony, after hunters killed the rest of his clan. He was taken to the Barcelona Zoo in 1966, where he lived until his death from skin cancer in 2003.