- Easy to spot, but Casper the echidna should be all white in wild
Lazing in the middle of a kangaroo mob just a half hour drive from city suburbs is a truly incredible tale of survival, rarely seen in the animal kingdom: an albino kangaroo that has survived beyond its perilous childhood.
Its pure, almost dazzling white coat strikes an amazing contrast against the lush greens and bush greys of the valley floor in the ACT’s Namadgi National Park.
Parks ranger Brett McNamara thinks the albino kangaroo, likely an eastern grey, is probably about two years old, which is extremely rare in the wild.
The usual fate of such an outstanding creature is a very short lifespan. In this part of the world, 30 minutes past Canberra’s southern suburbs, they make easy prey for wild dogs, foxes, and even eagles from the moment they are born. Their pale skin also makes them susceptible to sun burn and cancer, much like a fair-skinned human.
To add to their woes, albino kangaroos also tend to have a genetic predisposition towards sight and hearing issues, making it even more difficult to escape hungry predators.
“The whole thing about natural selection is that you want to blend in. Grey kangaroos are grey for a reason – they blend in with the rest of the environment,” Mr McNamara says.
Surrounded by its extended family of grey eastern greys, this young kangaroo looks alert but at ease. It appears to notice the clicking of a camera, and moves with its mob as we near.
Mr McNamara says the healthy population of kangaroos in the valley has probably played a large part in its survival, as the family bands together against potential dangers.
“It’s literally a face in the mob,” he says. “They do form very close-knit mobs within that valley. There’d be a dominate male kangaroo, there’d be a harem of females that he would be keeping a close eye on, then there would be some adults and obviously the juveniles coming through.”
From a distance it’s too hard to tell the sex of the albino, although the sight of a large male sniffing around could be an indication that it is a girl.
Rangers have given it the nickname Rene(e) (with the second ‘e’ awaiting confirmation of its sex), after a staff member in the department, but say they’re open to suggestions from the community.
Having survived the inherent dangers of a childhood of standing out in the crowd, Mr McNamara says he sees no reason the creature shouldn’t enjoy a full and happy life going forward – although he warns rangers will be keeping an eye out for any human interference.
“We are concerned about its ongoing welfare because of some illegal hunting activities that do occur in the park. We know we have those problems in the park,” he says.
Since it was first captured on film in a fuzzy shot by a ranger on Sunday, the park has received reports of at least two other albino kangaroos in its vast expanse in the ACT’s south. Friday was the second time The Canberra Times was called to the park to look for the creature.
But Mr McNamara says visitors shouldn’t come just to look for them. He won’t reveal the exact locations of the sightings, but instead says people should take it as an indication of just how worthwhile visiting the park could be.
“It really, to my mind, underscores the incredible biodiversity value that is Namadgi National Park,” he says.
“That something like this can occur, I know it’s all a bit clichéd, but literally a stone’s throw from the nation’s capital … what other national capital anywhere in the world could you do something like that? That’s what I reckon makes Canberra such an incredibly unique place.”
Do you have a suggestion for the name of the albino kangaroo? Leave your ideas in the comments.