Wyndham Crocodile Farm manager Ken Wood said he was shocked when the creamy crocodile named Snowball was born last year. “I remember saying when he hatched, this one’s white,” he said. It is understood the leucistic crocodile is rarer than an albino, with approximately one in every 10,000 crocodiles born with the creamy skin colour. The lighter colour is from a lack of the melanin pigment.
It is understood there are only two other known living leucistic crocodiles in Australia. The incidence of leucistic gators is probably very rare, although it is hard to say for certain since leucistic young lack protective camouflage coloring and are easy pickings for predators.
Leucism is a condition in which there is partial loss of pigmentation in an animal resulting in white, pale, or patchy coloration of the skin, hair, feathers, scales or cuticle, but not the eyes. Unlike albinism, it is caused by a reduction in multiple types of pigment, not just melanin.
Weighing over 500 pounds, 22 year old male Bouya Blan is one of only 12 white alligators in the world. The 500lb, 22-year-old male alligator, Bouya Blan, whose name means white fog, is kept at the Gatorland theme park in Florida. He is one of four giant leucistic alligators kept at the park.
“People are awestruck when they see them, and just one look into those icy, blue eyes will give you chills,” says Mark McHugh, President & CEO of Gatorland.
“This is the largest group of giant white gators in the world,” says Tim Williams of Gatorland. “These are not albino animals, they are what we call leucistic, which means they have a little bit of pigmentation around the mouth and a little touch on the tail and they have piercing blue eyes.”
Out of the 5 million american alligator population there are thought to be only 12 leucistic gators.
“They are just like alligators and they eat the same food,” explains Mr Williams. “The biggest concern is that they never would have survived in the wild. They are like little beacons out shining “come eat me. They are each ten to eleven plus feet in length and vulnerable to many predators because their lack of skin pigmentation deprives them of natural camouflage.”
Due to their condition, the alligators are housed in special enclosures to protect them from sunlight – and the unwanted attention of other males.
“We have four white alligators here at Gatorland and because they are all males they cannot be in the same enclosure as they are all very big and they would all fight with each other,” says Mr Williams.
“They are also very sensitive to direct sunlight, so we have to keep them in an environment where they get a tiny bit of sunlight during the day. They need to have a bit of Vitamin D but that is supplemented in their diet where we feed them chicken, fish, red meat and vitamin supplements. They each have their own pool and a haul out area and wooden decking they crawl out and bask in the heat.”
Tim and his team are now hoping to breed white alligators with two female American gators who carry the leucistic gene.
“We also have two normal females who carry the gene for the leusitic offspring,” says Mr Williams. He adds that “Our hope is that with some candle light, soft music and maybe a little wine we are hoping to breed some leusitic gators in the near future.”