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Snowflake (Catalan: Floquet de Neu, Spanish: Copito de Nieve; c. 1964 – 2003) was an albino Western lowland gorilla. He was kept at Barcelona Zoo in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain from 1966 until his death.
Snowflake was captured in the Rio Muni region in Equatorial Guinea on October 1, 1966 by ethnic Fang farmer Benito Mañé. Mañé had killed the rest of Snowflake's gorilla group (who were 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.
"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."
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.
Life in Barcelona
Upon his arrival to Barcelona in November 1966, he was given an official reception by the then Mayor of Barcelona, Josep Maria de Porcioles and called "Blancanieves" ("Snow White") in the newspaper Tele/Exprés. 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", and as the "Vanilla Gorilla".
At first, the Barcelona Zoo was not aware that Snowflake was a unique specimen. They sent a message to Sabater Pi saying, "Please send more white gorillas." The zoo later hoped to produce a genetic strain and an entire family group of white gorillas through selective breeding. 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. 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.
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.[better source needed]
Snowflake fathered twenty-two offspring by three different mates, or "dams". Six of his offspring survived to adulthood. None of Snowflake's offspring were albino, but all should be heterozygous, recessive carriers, for the albino gene. Half of his grandchildren likely carry the albino gene. If both parents were albino gene carriers they have 25% chance of producing an albino offspring.
As of May 2014, Snowflake had a total of 21 grandchildren (11 survived) and four great-grandchildren (all living). Snowflake's great-grandson N'Kou has pink fingers which is perhaps suggestive of partial albinism.
In 2001, Snowflake was diagnosed with an unusual form of skin cancer, almost certainly related to his albinism condition. By 2003, Snowflake's health began to deteriorate. After he began losing interest in his usual activities, isolating himself from other gorillas and exhibiting signs of physical pain, Snowflake's keepers decided to euthanize him. The decision was publicly announced in September 2003. Thousands of people visited Snowflake at the Barcelona Zoo before he was euthanized on November 24, 2003. At the time of his death, Snowflake was thought to be between 38 and 40 years old.
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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 - the passage is a meditation on loneliness, captivity, the burden of being unique in the world, and mortality.
Albino gorillas in other media
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There had been other albino gorillas that were similar in appearance to Snowflake that appear in different media appearances.
- Prior to the birth of Snowflake, the film Son of Kong featured King Kong's son who was an albino gorilla that's twice the height of a human that was named "Little Kong."
- In Legends of Chima, the Gorilla Tribe member Grizzam has white fur similar to Snowflake.
- In the 2017 film War for the Planet of the Apes, an albino gorilla named Winter (voiced and motion-captured by Aleks Paunovic) appears in Caesar's tribe and was defected to the Colonel's side out of fear.
- In the 2018 film Rampage (which is based on the video game series of the same name), George (motion-captured by Jason Liles) is albino in the movie adaptation to differentiate from King Kong as Dwayne Johnson says George is based off Snowflake.
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- Sabater's pictures Archived 2009-08-04 at the Wayback Machine., at the Sabater Pi Collection at the Universitat de Barcelona
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- 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 (May 31, 2013). "The genome sequencing of an albino Western lowland gorilla reveals inbreeding in the wild". BMC Genomics. 14: 363. doi:10.1186/1471-2164-14-363. PMC . PMID 23721540. Archived from the original on October 6, 2014. Retrieved June 4, 2014.
- International Wildlife Encyclopedia Vol. 20, Marshall Cavendish Corporation/New York, 1970, pg. 2710
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- "Asteroide Copito de Nieve" Archived 2007-03-17 at the Wayback Machine.
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- "Unique in all gorilladom: Roman Luera Carbo's Snowflake", Life 62:69-70, March 31, 1967
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- https://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/snowflake Nature episode: "Snowflake: The White Gorilla" at PBS.org