MS. REBECCA SHEIR
A popular thing for tourists of all ages to do in Washington is visit the White House. And just a stone's throw from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, a rather distinctive outsider has settled in for a stay in D.C. It's an Albino American Alligator, one of fewer than 100 known to exist in the entire world. And you can check out this critter right now in the basement of the Commerce Building at the National Aquarium. Emily Friedman paid a visit to catch a glimpse of this outsider of the reptile world.
MS. EMILY FRIEDMAN
Ryan Dumas is the aquarium's herpetologist. He looks after the aquarium's turtles, eels, fish, newts and for the next six months, a four and a half foot long Albino American Alligator.
MS. EMILY FRIEDMAN
Will you explain what we're looking at here?
MR. RYAN DUMAS
It's spectacular. What I mean, just looking at the animal's head, you can see all the little crazy dents and formations that are part of the animal's skull and it's just a really neat looking animal.
She's a completely white animal with red eyes.
You're looking right at the blood vessels inside the eye.
Even though I came here specifically to see this animal, somehow it is still really bizarre. It looks like a regular alligator, just white.
Albinism is also known as Amelanism, and that's just a lack of all dark pigments throughout her body. Since American Alligators are pretty dark-pigmented animals, all of that's gone. It shines, even when the lights go out at night. it's a very bright animal.
In an aquarium, that glow-in-the-dark quality is a very cool thing, but in the wild, it can get you killed.
I can't imagine an animal like the American alligator, who's an ambush predator, has a very tough time creeping up on, you know, unsuspecting prey when it's bright white.
Normal American Alligators live anywhere from 40 to 80 years.
For an albino, the chances of making it more than a couple of hours are very, very slim.
A white baby alligator is an easy, easy target for any of the animal's predators.
Larger alligators are very big predators of smaller alligators, snakes, any number of birds of prey.
Because albinos don't survive in the wild, the only reason we're standing here looking at an albino alligator is because this gator was born in captivity. She was born on an alligator farm in a town called Cutoff, Louisiana.
And what they do is harvest alligator nests. They go out and remove the eggs before they hatch and they hatch them in captivity.
When the eggs hatch some of the gators are released back into the wild and the other gators are used for their meat and their skin. But when an egg hatches and it's an albino, which is very, very rare, that gator gets a lot of special attention.
Can anyone tell me what the alligator looks like?
An albino alligator.
Do you think she's a little bit scary looking or it's okay?
These are two of the four Maloney children. They're visiting from upstate New York on their first family vacation. The reason they came to D.C. was because of the albino alligator.
Gosh, they're thrilled, totally thrilled. My youngest two would probably touch it if they had the opportunity. They've been talking about it all day.
Did you guys check out the claws? Look at those claws?
She needs her nails cut.
Herpetologist Ryan Dumas walks around the crowd, answering any questions about the gator. He says apart from their skin, the albino alligator is like normal alligators in almost every way, except one.
Local lore around the area is if you see an alligator it's incredibly lucky. Some people view it as a ghost, some people just think it's very, very lucky.
And whether it's a charm or not, Dumas says, there are fewer than 100 in the entire world. So if you see one of these reptilian outsiders, consider yourself pretty lucky. I'm Emily Friedman.
Ever seen an albino alligator yourself? If not, here's your chance. We have photos on our website, metroconnection.org.
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