At Lion Sands, beautiful nyala antelope are a common sight. In fact, nyala roam freely around our lodges, and we frequently see them on the walkways and in the open guest areas.
What is very uncommon, however, is too see a white nyala. That is why we were shocked to find one at River Lodge!
Field Guide Morne Arnold spotted this unusual creature on his return from a bush walk. The calf, who is a newborn, followed its mother past the entrance of River Lodge and into a thicket just outside Room 11, where it was well concealed.
The calf’s white colouring is as a result of a rare condition called leucism, which has been observed in different mammals and birds. Leucism is the expression of a recessive gene that causes the skin, feathers, or fur to lack melanin pigment.
Unlike albinism, which results in the loss of all pigment, in leucistic animals the colour of the lips and eyes generally remain unaffected. Leucism may also only affect the body partially, with other parts remaining normally pigmented.
It is difficult to say how often animals are born leucistic, because unfortunately they tend not to live long. Their inability to camouflage puts them at a severe disadvantage in the wild. A mother may even abandon her leucistic newborn – there seems little point in investing in an offspring with such a slim chance of survival.
Sadly, because of high predator density in the area, this little nyala’s chances are not good. However, staying close to River Lodge may afford it some protection.
Words by: Charlotte Arthun
Photos by: Franscois Rosslee and Morne Arnold