Albinism is a condition in which an animal’s skin, feathers, or fur is lighter in color than that of other animals of that species. We report a unique case of complete albinism in a red-brocket deer in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest. The individual, which we called a “magical creature,” lives inside a conservation area in one of the most deforested regions of the Brazilian Amazon. The survival of the albino red-brocket deer in the wild might be related to the fact that it is so rare! Possibly, its main predators, pumas and jaguars, are only familiar with colored red-brocket deer, so they might not be interested in eating a white one. Our article shows how important it is to monitor species diversity and to conserve habitats that support species diversity in endangered regions such as the Brazilian Amazon.
What Is Albinism?
Have you ever seen a completely white animal from a species that is not normally white, like a bear (not a polar bear), a bird, or a snake? That completely white animal is called an albino. Albinism is a condition that results in loss of pigmentation (natural coloring) in the eyes, scales, hair, feathers, or skin. Complete albinism is the total lack of pigmentation resulting in pale skin, white fur, and pink eyes . People of color and colorful animals have lots of a pigment called melanin, and pale animals and people have less of it. Some animals and people carry a genetic mutation that affects the production of melanin, which therefore affects the color of their bodies, making them albinos. There are plenty of albino animals, including snakes, bats, tapirs, giraffes, and peacocks, to name a few (Figure 1). However, albino animals are difficult to see in the wild.
Some scientists think that albino animals can be easily spotted in the jungle, which would expose them to predators that hunt them [2, 3]. Albino animals also have bad eyesight, which may make it difficult for them to find food or avoid threats. Because of their pale skin, they are more vulnerable to sunburns and thus cannot search for food or mates in sunny places .
The Albino Deer in the Amazon Forest
Our research team was the first to spot an albino red-brocket deer in the heart of the Amazon forest. We were thrilled to find this rare creature and worried that it was in danger. Jaguars love eating red-brocket deer, however a shiny white one, like some of the Harry Potter’s Patronus charm, might attract lots of attention. Our “magical” albino deer is hidden in a conservation area located in the most deforested region of the Brazilian Amazon jungle (Figure 2). This conservation area protects a lot of animals like peccaries, anteaters, pumas, jaguars, and deers. We call this area the “special site.”
How Did We Find an Albino Red Brocket Deer?
Searching for animals in dense forests can be a huge adventure. We needed to observe wild animals without bothering them so they could be themselves in the jungle. We wanted to find out which kinds of animals were present, what they eat, how they hide from predators, and how they hunt their prey. How did we do it? By secretly taking pictures of all the animals that passed in front of our hidden cameras called camera traps. A camera trap has infrared sensors that detect animals’ presence and movements. Every time an animal crosses in front of the camera, the sensor activates the camera, which then takes a picture or records a video (Figure 2). To see the animals that visit that part of the forest, we hid camera traps on trees for 60 days during the dry season and again during the wet season. Ten camera traps were positioned along two long trails of 5 km each inside the Amazonia lowland forest. The cameras operate 24 h per day, 7 days per week for the entire photographing period. The red-brocket deer is a common species in the Amazon; During the photographing period, we got at least 80 photos of red-brocket deer, along with a lot of other mammals.
The Albino Red-Brocket Deer: Our Magical Creature
Red-brocket deer are quiet and usually live alone, with their siblings, or with their partners during the reproductive season. Most of their body parts are reddish-brown, but their necks and faces are usually gray. The inner parts of their limbs and tails are white, along with the cheek area, the tip of the jaw, and the inner edge of the ears. Their hind legs are black on the backside and can vary from dark to lighter black on the front side (Figure 3A).
The albino deer that we spotted is a young male with a white body including its hind legs, front legs, and both sides of the tail (Figure 3B). His snout and the back of his ears are white, and he also has red eyes, which is a distinctive characteristic of albino animals. His movements and activity seem to be normal, and there are no signs of fights such as scars or injuries on his skin.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Being an Albino Deer in the Amazon
Our finding was impressive because a total albino red-brocket deer had never been seen in Brazil before. Our first thought was that this magical, beautiful creature might be in danger. Maybe no albino deer were spotted before because they are so visible to predators that they cannot survive until adulthood, because predators might eat these unique animals as soon as they see them , or perhaps albino red-brocket deer are so rare that research surveys could never find them. We do not know exactly why albino red-brocket deer have never been found before.
However, since this deer survived until adulthood, maybe there is actually some advantage to being albino. Being different could be advantageous if the habitat contains a high number of prey animals. It is possible that the more different a prey animal is from others, the safer it is . Maybe the main predators of red-brocket deer, pumas and jaguars, are only used to colored red-brocket deer, so they would not be interested in a white one. Think of it like children who love to eat watermelons. If they see a yellow watermelon (also a genetic mutation) on supermarket shelves, they will probably avoid it because of its unique color; they might not know that yellow watermelons exist. However, if the yellow watermelon is the only available food, they might try it, even if it looks odd. Similarly, being a white red-brocket deer in a site with normal-colored prey animals might be advantageous for the albino deer .
Conservation areas like our special site have many trees, small mammals, medium-sized herbivores, birds, and large predators. All these organisms keep the jungle working in balance. Deforestation, pollution, or the burning of forests cause animals to die or try to escape, disturbs the nature’s precious balance. If this albino red-brocket deer lives in a small, deforested area with no food options available for its predators, then he is in a disadvantaged position and likely will be eaten as soon as a predator sees him.
A Sign of Hope
We conclude that currently, the dense vegetation in the environment of our special site in the Amazon Forest is helping the albino deer, protecting it from the harmful effects of sunlight, and supplying plenty of food options. Another explanation for its survival is the high population number of another species of deer in that habitat, the Amazonia brown-brocket deer. The large number of these deer decreases the likelihood of an encounter between predators and the albino deer. There are also lots of other animal species that serve as prey for the deer’s predators. An abundance of prey gives an albino animal a chance to avoid being chosen by predators, which favors its survival. If other prey animals were not available, it would increase the risk of this wonderful creature being eaten by predators. The presence of an adult albino deer on our special site in the Amazon Forest could indicate that the presence of a wide variety of prey is an important factor for maintaining the high diversity of species, including those with rare genetic characteristics like albinism.
Albinism: ↑ A group of genetic conditions marked by little or none of the pigment melanin in the skin, hair, and/or eyes.
Pigmentation: ↑ Coloring. The skin gets its color from a pigment called melanin.
Melanin: ↑ Special cells in the skin responsible for its color (more colored, dark skin, more melanin, less colored, white skin, less melanin).
Genetic Mutation: ↑ A change in a specific gene that causes mutations leading to special conditions like albinism or, in extreme situations, severe health problems.
Camera Trap: ↑ Equipment with a camera inside that automatically takes pictures when its sensors detect the presence of an animal.
Deforestation: ↑ The process of clearing forests by cutting down trees.
Diversity: ↑ The number of different species living in a certain place.
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.
Original Source Article
↑Ribeiro, R., and de Siqueira-Silva, D. H. 2020. First report of complete albinism in mazama Americana (Erxleben, 1777) in the biological reserve of tapirapé, oriental amazon, Brazil. Acta Sci. Biol. Sci. 42:1–7. doi: 10.4025/actascibiolsci.v42i1.46734
 ↑ Summers, C. G. 2009. Albinism: classification, clinical characteristics, and recent findings. Optom. Vis. Sci. 86:659–62. doi: 10.1097/OPX.0b013e3181a5254c
 ↑ Acevedo, J., Aguayo-Lobo, A., and Torres, D. 2009. Albino Weddell seal at Cape Shirreff, Livingston Island, Antarctica. Polar. Biol. 32:1239–43. doi: 10.1007/s00300-009-0680-8
 ↑ Uieda, W. 2000. A review of complete albinism in bats with five new cases from Brazil. Acta Chiropterol. 2:97–105.
 ↑ Grønskov, K., Ek, J., and Brondum-Nielsen, K. 2007. Oculocutaneous albinism. Orphanet J. Rare Dis. 2:43. doi: 10.1186/1750-1172-2-43
 ↑ Greenwood, J. J. D. 1985. Frequency-dependent selection by seed-predators. Oikos 44:195. doi: 10.2307/3544062
 ↑ Clarke, B. 1962. Natural selection in mixed populations of two polymorphic snails. Heredity (Edinb) 17:319–45. doi: 10.1038/hdy.1962.35
 ↑ Ribeiro, R., and de Siqueira-Silva, D. H. 2020. First report of complete albinism in mazama Americana (Erxleben, 1777) in the biological reserve of tapirapé, oriental amazon, Brazil. Acta Sci. Biol. Sci. 42:1–7. doi: 10.4025/actascibiolsci.v42i1.46734