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Rare albino alligator gets clean bill of health at SC Aquarium - Live5News.com | Charleston, SC | News, Weather, Sports

Rare albino alligator gets clean bill of health at SC Aquarium

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Alabaster, a rare albino alligator, received a clean bill of health at the South Carolina Aquarium. (Source: SC Aquarium) Alabaster, a rare albino alligator, received a clean bill of health at the South Carolina Aquarium. (Source: SC Aquarium)
CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Alabaster, a rare albino alligator at the South Carolina Aquarium, received a clean bill of health from the staff veterinarian Wednesday.

Aquarium staffers joked, "How do you give an 8-foot albino alligator a check-up?" then followed up with the answer, "Very carefully."

In reality, it did take a careful coordinated effort from a team of about a dozen staff members assisting the aquarium veterinarian and herpetologist to complete thephysicall exam and draw blood. 

The process began with the crew draining water from the exhibit and move fish, then lift the gator into a waiting crate and scale, according to aquarium spokesperson Kate Dittloff.

Alabaster, who has been with the aquarium since 2010, is 8'2" long and weighed in at 161 pounds, deemed perfect for his age.

"In captivity, American alligators can live up to 80 years. Alabaster will be 18 this year," Dittloff said. 

But albino alligators are extremely rare. Experts believe there are only about 50 of them in the world. 

"Albinism does not cause mortality on its own, meaning that they are generally just as healthy as normal animals," Dittloff said. However, albino animals generally have less fitness than other animals because they are unable to blend in with their surroundings, are prone to being preyed upon and have a hard time sneaking up on their prey, she said.

They also have impaired vision because of a hypersensitivity to bright light.

Albanism, a condition seen in both humans and animals, is the lack of melanin, or coloration, in the eyes, skin, hair, fur or feathers. Melanin protects the skin from the sun's ultraviolet radiation, making albino animals very sensitive to sunlight.

Albinism naturally occurs in alligators once in every 100,000 eggs hatched, according to the aquarium. Survival in the wild is even more uncommon than birth, with most not surviving more than about 24 hours. Some of the only known albino alligator nests, found in Louisiana, were destroyed or displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and no known albino alligators have hatched successfully in the wild since then.

Because of his condition, he can never be returned to the wild, Dittloff said. But at home in the aquarium's Blackwater Swamp exhibit, the aquarium staff says Alabaster serves as an ambassador for his species to aquarium visitors.

Copyright 2014 WCSC. All rights reserved.

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