Albino Gorilla: Shocking New Study Reveals Snowflake, World’s Only White Gorilla, Was Inbred [PHOTOS & VIDEO]

By Philip Ross on June 17, 2013 7:29 PM EDT

albino gorilla 1
The world's only albino gorilla, Snowflake, found in Equatorial Guinea, plays in his cage at Barcelona's zoo. Snowflake, who was the zoo’s main attraction for the 37 years he lived there, died on November 24, 2003 after a long struggle with skin cancer. (Photo: Reuters)
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Snowflake bites his nails at the Barcelona Zoo. After mapping the albino gorilla’s genome, scientists recently discovered that Snowflake’s white coloring is probably a result of his being inbred. (Photo: Reuters)
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Undated file picture of the world's only known albino gorilla, Snowflake, released by Barcelona Zoo. Researchers believe Snowflake’s parents were most likely uncle and niece. (Photo: Reuters)

The albino gorilla, named Snowflake, who lived at the Barcelona Zoo for 37 years and was the park's star attraction, was inbred, a new study says. Live Science reports that for years, scientists did not fully understand how the world's only albino gorilla got its white coloring. But, after Spanish researchers recently mapped Snowflake's entire genome, they found the answer: his parents were most likely uncle and niece.

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Researchers took frozen blood from the famous albino gorilla and compared Snowflake's genome to that of non-albino gorillas and discovered that he carried two copies of the same mutant gene. While scientists had previously determined that Snowflake had a condition called oculocutaneous, which causes white hair, pink skin, light eyes and vision problems, they did not know what exactly caused the gorilla to be albino.

They also determined that Snowflake's parents shared 12 percent of their genes, which is consistent with DNA matching an uncle and a niece.

The albino gorilla was discovered in 1966 by farmers in Equatorial Guinea, a tiny, sub-Saharan African country that gained independence from Spain in 1968. Snowflake was a western lowland gorilla, the smallest of the subspecies of the western gorilla that lives in the forests and swamps of central Africa. Their range includes Angola, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

Western lowland gorillas are the species of gorilla you usually will find in zoos. The average male weighs about 370 pounds and stands just over 5 feet tall. They live in communities of up to 30 individual gorillas, and inhabit a range up to 16-square-miles large.

According to National Geographic, western lowland gorillas are endangered. In the wild, the gorillas face forest loss and human hunting. Farms encroach on the gorilla's land, causing their environment to shrink.

While gorillas are not known to inbreed, researchers believe that limited space could be limiting the gorillas' mating choices. The albino gorilla is believed to have been a product of this phenomenon.

Read more from iScience Times:

Gorilla Photobombs Girls: See Adorable Pictures Of 'Motaba' At Australia Zoo Here

Bronx Zoo Gorilla: Pattycake And 3 Other Zoo Gorillas That Recently Died

Baby Gorilla Raised By Humans; Watch Gladys Meet Her New Gorilla Mommy [VIDEO]

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