Snowflake (gorilla)

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Snowflake (Catalan: Floquet de Neu, Spanish: Copito de Nieve; c. 1964 – November 24, 2003) was an albino gorilla. He was the most popular resident of the Barcelona Zoo in Spain.[citation needed]


Originally named Nfumu Ngui in Fang language ("white gorilla") by his captor, he was then nicknamed Floquet de Neu (Catalan for little snowflake[1]) by his keeper Jordi Sabater Pi.[2][3] On his arrival to Barcelona where he was given an official reception by the then Mayor of Barcelona, Josep Maria de Porcioles, in November 1966, he was called Blancanieves ("Snow White") in the newspaper Tele/Exprés.[4] But he became famous with the name given to him by Sabater when National Geographic Magazine featured him on the cover in March 1967, with the English name Snowflake. This name spread among the press (Stern, Life, Paris-Match). Sabater himself called the gorilla Copi or Floquet, and in the later years Nfumu. He was also known as "Little Buttercup",[5] and as the "Vanilla Gorilla". The asteroid 95962 Copito, discovered by Spanish astronomer J. Manteca, is named in his honour.[6]


Snowflake was a Western Lowland Gorilla with non-syndromic oculocutaneous albinism.[7] Snowflake had unpigmented skin and hair.[8][9]

Snowflake had poor vision, which is associated with albinism. A test to try to determine whether Snowflake had a central blind spot did not find one.[10] Barcelona Zoo director Antonio Jonch wrote:

"The eye had a blueish sclera, a normal cornea, and a light blue iris which was very transparent to transillumination. Accommodation and refraction were normal. The media were transparent and the fundus of the eye normal and totally depigmented. The choroidal vessels were perfectly visible and the pupil was normal. The animal displayed marked photophobia which caused it to close its eyes repeatedly when exposed to bright light. In diffuse light similar to that in its biotope, we calculated that it blinked on an average of 20 times a minute."[9]

Study of Snowflake's genome determined that his parents had 12% of their DNA in common, leading researchers to believe that his parents were uncle and niece. The same study revealed that his albinism was caused by a mutation of SLC45A2 gene. Snowflake received the recessive gene from both parents, causing his albinism.[7][11]


Snowflake resting in his enclosure

Snowflake was captured in the Rio Muni region in Equatorial Guinea on October 1, 1966 by Benito Mañé, an ethnic Fang farmer. Mañé had killed the rest of Snowflake's gorilla group (normal in color). Mañé then kept Snowflake at his home for four days before transporting him to Bata, where he was purchased by primatologist Jordi Sabater Pi.[12] Snowflake spent most of his life at the Barcelona Zoo.[citation needed]

Snowflake fathering 21 offspring, ten males and eleven females, by three different mates, or "dams". Six of his offspring survived to adulthood and three are still alive. None of Snowflake's offspring were albino, but all should be heterozygous, recessive carriers, for the albino gene. His grandchildren have 50% mathematical probability for carrying the albino gene, while his grandchildren have 25% chance. If both parents were albino gene carriers they have 25% chance of producing an albino offspring.[citation needed] As of May 2014, Snowflake has a total of 21 grandchildren (11 alive) and four great-grandchildren (all living).[13] Snowflake's great-grandson N'Kou has pink fingers, which is perhaps suggestive of partial albinism.[citation needed]

At the time of death, Snowflake was thought to be between 38 and 40 years old. Since 2001, he had suffered from an unusual form of skin cancer, almost certainly related to his albinism condition.[14] Thousands visited the zoo to say goodbye before he was euthanized on November 24, 2003.[citation needed]

At first, the Barcelona Zoo was not aware just how unique of a specimen Snowflake was. They sent a message to Sabater Pi saying, "Please send more white gorillas."[citation needed] The zoo later hoped to produce a genetic strain and an entire family group of white gorillas through selective breeding.[citation needed] The Barcelona Zoo had a protocol in place to have Snowflake's testicles harvested, upon his death, and placed in the frozen zoo so as to reserve the option of having more offspring from him in the future.[citation needed] Snowflake's genes would have been considered particularly valuable because he was wild caught, and therefore one of the genetic founders to the captive population of Western Lowland gorillas, which are endangered, and are being managed by AZA SSP/EEP captive breeding programs for wildlife conservation.[citation needed] In 1986 the Barcelona Zoo enlisted British zoo veterinarian David Taylor to collect sperm from Snowflake for artificial insemination. Although the attempt was unsuccessful, the story was carried by newspapers the world over.[15][better source needed] There has even been talk of cloning Snowflake.[citation needed]


A room dedicated to Snowflake

A scholarship for research on primatology was created in memory of and homage to the albino gorilla. Snowflake's fame also helped to promote awareness of the endangered gorilla species. "If we do nothing there will be no more gorillas in 30 years," Sabater Pi said at the presentation of his book.

The gorilla became a main character in the novel Memòries d'en Floquet de Neu ("Snowflake's Memories") by Catalan writer Toni Sala.

Sabater Pi also dedicated a book to the gorilla, under the title Copito para Siempre ("Snowflake Forever").

He also makes a brief appearance in Italo Calvino's novel Mr. Palomar.

Nature on PBS devoted an episode to him.

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins wrote of Snowflake in his poem, "Searching," published in his 2008 collection, Ballistics.[16]

Snowflake appears on the front cover of dance music act Basement Jaxx's album Rooty.[17]

While playing at FC Barcelona, Dutch football player Ronald Koeman was nicknamed Copito de Nieve because of his blond hair.

Snowflake appeared on The Triplets (Les Tres Bessones) episode "The Triplets meet King Kong" as a guest of honor for the appearance of King Kong in Barcelona's Olympic Stadium.

In 2011, there was a live action/CGI film called Snowflake, the White Gorilla that depicts the fictional childhood of Snowflake (voiced by Ariana Grande).


  1. ^ "The Name Is Snowflake", The Pittsburgh Post Gazette, May 28, 1967
  2. ^ Sabater's pictures, at the Sabater Pi Collection at the Universitat de Barcelona
  3. ^ "Little Snowflake, World's First White Gorilla", The Palm Beach Post, February 22, 1967
  4. ^
  5. ^ Taylor, Henry J., "An Animal Lover: Elephant Is Real King Of Jungle", Ocala Star-Banner, July 28, 1967, page 4
  6. ^ "Asteroide Copito de Nieve"
  7. ^ a b Javier Prado-Martinez; Irene Hernando-Herraez; Belen Lorente-Galdos; Marc Dabad; Oscar Ramirez; Carlos Baeza-Delgado; Carlos Morcillo-Suarez; Can Alkan; Fereydoun Hormozdiari; Emanuele Raineri; Jordi Estellé; Marcos Fernandez-Callejo; Mònica Valles; Lars Ritscher; Torsten Schöneberg; Elisa de la Calle-Mustienes; Sònia Casillas; Raquel Rubio-Acero; Marta Melé; Johannes Engelken; Mario Caceres; Jose Luis Gomez-Skarmeta9; Marta Gut; Jaume Bertranpetit; Ivo G Gut; Teresa Abello; Evan E Eichler; Ismael Mingarro; Carles Lalueza-Fox; Arcadi Navarro; Tomas Marques-Bonet (31 May 2013). "The genome sequencing of an albino Western lowland gorilla reveals inbreeding in the wild". BMC Genomics 14. doi:10.1186/1471-2164-14-363. Retrieved 4 June 2014. 
  8. ^ International Wildlife Encyclopedia Vol. 20, Marshall Cavendish Corporation/New York, 1970, pg. 2710
  9. ^ a b Duplaix-Hall, Nicole; Antonio Jonch (1967). "The White Gorilla (Gorilla g. gorilla) At Barcelona Zoo". International Zoo Yearbook. Vol. XIII. London: Zoological Society of London. p. 196. OCLC 604039131. 
  10. ^ Riopelle, A.J., "Growing up with Snowflake", National Geographic, 138:490-503, October 1970
  11. ^ Pappas, Stephanie (17 June 2013). "Albino Gorilla 'Snowflake' Was Inbred, Gene Sequence Shows". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 6 June 2014. 
  12. ^ Riopelle, A.J., "Snowflake the world's first white gorilla", National Geographic 131: 442-8, March 1967
  13. ^ Davis, James R. (1 June 2014). "0281 - SNOWFLAKE". Dewar Wildlife. Dewar Wildlife Trust, Inc. Retrieved 6 June 2014. 
  14. ^ Staff writers (22 September 2003). "Albino gorilla dying of skin cancer". BBC News. Retrieved 1 June 2013. 
  15. ^ Taylor, David, Vet on the Wild Side: Further Adventures of a Wildlife Vet, Arrow (Random Century Group), 1991
  16. ^
  17. ^ Woollaston, Victoria (June 19, 2013). "The world's only albino gorilla was the result of INCEST - and his lack of colour meant he died from skin cancer, claim scientists". Daily Mail (London). Retrieved 21 June 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Riopelle, A.J., "Snowflake the world's first white gorilla", National Geographic 131:442-8, March 1967
  • "Unique in all gorilladom: Roman Luera Carbo's Snowflake", Life 62:69-70, March 31, 1967
  • Riopelle, A.J., "Growing up with Snowflake", National Geographic 138:490-503, October 1970
  • Jonch, Antonio, "The White Gorilla (Gorilla g. gorilla) At Barcelona Zoo", International Zoo Yearbook Vol. XIII, 1967, pg. 196
  • Schmeck, Harold M. Jr., "First Known White Gorilla Is Found", The New York Times F. 23 pgs. 1:5 & 41:2
  • "Rare albino gorilla dies", The Montreal Gazette, November 25, 2003, pg. A.21
  • Gerritsen, Vivienne Baillie (August 2004) "Snowy stardom". Protein Spotlight (SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics).
  • NATURE. Snowflake: The White Gorilla|PBS