Thanks to a group of Chinese researchers and a rare genetic mutation, we’re discovering that the world’s best bear can get even more adorable.
On Sunday, scientists at Wolong National Nature Reserve in Sichuan, China released a photo of an all-white, albino giant panda — believed to be the first of his (or her) kind known to human researchers.
The image, taken by the reserve’s motion-activated cameras in mid-April, shows the one- to two-year-old panda cub walking through brush, approximately 2,000 meters above sea-level. With white claws, white fur, and red eyes, the unnamed critter carries all the hallmark signs of albinism.
According to an official statement from the local conservation authority, the discovery of this rare cub indicates “that there is a ‘whitening’ mutant gene in the giant panda population in Wolong.”
Should the cub mate with another wild panda and pass its genetic code along when it is fully grown, it is quite possible that we could be looking at more albino panda cubs down the line — the species’ well-known mating issues notwithstanding.
Albinism “usually has no significant effect on the animal’s activity or reproduction,” according to the conservation authority. Outside of being slightly more visible to predators and sensitive to sunlight, our new panda friend should have about as good of a chance at survival as any of its black-and-white peers.
“Looking at the photo, the individual appears physically strong, with a steady gait,” the statement notes.
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The discovery comes as part of a larger conservation effort in southwest China, aiming to learn more about multiple species in the region.
Moving forward, researchers intend to tag and track the animal for further study and protection. As of 2016, giants pandas are no longer endangered, but their global population remains vulnerable today.
No word yet on when we can expect more photos of the rare baby.
Special thanks to Sarah Stebbins for aiding with translation.