It never ceases to amaze me how often nature reveals something unexpected; no matter how much time I spend photographing wildlife, scarcely a day goes by in which I do not witness some surprising aspect of an animal’s behaviour or an unusual individual.
We have just returned from a trip to the Masai Mara in Kenya where we were photographing the annual wildebeest migration. After a rather uneventful morning, we stopped on the banks of the Mara River for a picnic breakfast. It was then that we came across a truly exceptional individual… just as we started to tuck into our breakfast, we looked up and gawked, open-mouthed, as a pink hippopotamus emerged from the river! Hippos are usually dark brown in colour, so this individual was very conspicuous! We dropped our breakfast and reached for our cameras.
The hippo was clearly a young one since it was much smaller than the others in the group. It was also very shy and tended to stick close to its mother. To avoid frightening it off, we used a long 600mm lens to photograph it from a distance. Nevertheless, it only stayed ashore for few minutes before returning to the safety of the river. Thereafter we caught fleeting glimpses of it as it came up to breathe.
Later our guide told us that he had heard rumours from other guides that a pink hippo existed in the Mara, but he had never seen it and had not been told where it lived. We were obviously very fortunate to have stumbled upon it by chance. As we were taking our photographs, we had no idea how rare the animal was, or if it had been photographed by others before us.
On returning to the UK, we set about researching the occurrence of pink hippos and found that there have only been a handful of recorded instances, mainly in Uganda. We could not find any reports of a pink hippo in the Masai Mara.
This hippo is not an albino hippo as it has dark eyes and some pigmented spots on its back. Therefore it is most likely that this is leucistic hippo. The definition of lecuism per Wikipedia is:
“Leucism is a condition characterized by reduced pigmentation in animals and humans. Unlike albinism, it is caused by a reduction in all types of skin pigment, not just melanin.”
Being an animal that is so strikingly different often results in a hard life; these creatures frequently become outcasts, rejected by their conventionally colored peers. In this case however, we were relieved to note that the other hippos seemed to be treating the pink hippo just like any other. Leucistic and albino animals are also easily spotted by predators which greatly reduces their chances of survival. Fortunately, hippos are too big for most predators, and this young hippo’s mother would fiercely protect it if they were ever attacked. Finally, animals without skin pigmentation often suffer from severe sunburn. However, a hippos’ sweat is unique in that it acts as a very effective sunscreen, protecting them from harmful UV radiation… therefore it seems that this pink hippo should be able to survive perfectly well in the wild!
As wildlife photographers, it is always exciting to photograph something a little bit different, and this pink hippo was certainly a first for us! We hope that it goes on to live a full and happy hippo life and that visitors to the Masai Mara can continue to marvel at its fetching pink rump for many years to come!
We will be releasing more images from this trip later in the year. If you would like to be notified when new images are released, please subscribe to our free newsletter via email or RSS. You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter.