It’s time we talk about the (pink) elephant in the room. While on a safari in South Africa’s MalaMala Private Game Reserve recently field guide Timothy Jansen Van Vuuren captured this footage of a tiny elephant calf sporting a rather unusual skin colour:

The champagne-pink youngster, believed to be about two or three weeks old in this footage and the smallest in the herd, was being carefully guarded by protective adults. It's unclear from the clip if the calf is a true albino or if its unusual colouring is caused by a genetic condition called leucism. 

Albinism causes a complete lack of melanin – the group of natural pigments that give colour to skin and eyes. As a result true albino animals not only have reddish pink skin, but they typically have very pale eyes as well (often pink or red as the blood vessels show through). Leucisim results in only a partial loss of pigmentation, and doesn't affect the eyes.

Whether albino or leucistic, this tiny elephant has a tough road ahead of it. Animals carrying these conditions stick out of their natural habitat making them more susceptible to attack from predators. They are often sensitive to light and may have health problems associated with genetic mutations.

However, that's not to say that the calf won't make it to adulthood – sightings of adult white civets, dolphins and humpback whales suggest that some pale individuals do beat the odds. An elephant on Kapama Private Game Reserve lived to be at least five year's old.

Albinism is believed to be fairly common in Asian elephants, but when it comes to their larger African cousins there are only a handful of sightings on record. In the Greater Kruger Park, the last known sighting dates back to 2016 when a calf, similar in age and appearance to the latest find, was spotted in the north of the reserve.

Across the border in Botswana, an albino calf was photographed by a BBC film crew in 2009. This youngster seemed to show signs that it was aware of its increased susceptibility to the harsh African sun. "Already the two-to-three-month-old calf seems to be walking in the shade of its mother," Ecologist Dr Mike Chase told the BBC at the time. "I have learned that elephants are highly adaptable, intelligent and masters of survival."

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Top header image: Michael7070/Flickr