We have just returned from a trip to the Masai Mara in Kenya where we were photographing the annual wildebeest migration. After a rather uneventful morning, we stopped on the banks of the Mara River for a picnic breakfast. It was then that we came across a truly exceptional individual… just as we started to tuck into our breakfast, we looked up and gawked, open-mouthed, as a pink hippopotamus emerged from the river! Hippos are usually dark brown in colour, so this individual was very conspicuous! We dropped our breakfast and reached for our cameras.
This phonomenenon is explained in the National Geographic: The odd-looking animal has a condition called leucism, which occurs when the skin produces less pigment than usual, according to Joshua Charlton, assistant curator of mammals at the Bronx Zoo in New York City.
The hippo was clearly a young one since it was much smaller than the others in the group. It was also very shy and tended to stick close to its mother. To avoid frightening it off, we used a long 600mm lens to photograph it from a distance. Nevertheless, it only stayed ashore for few minutes before returning to the safety of the river. Thereafter we caught fleeting glimpses of it as it came up to breathe.
Later our guide told us that he had heard rumours from other guides that a pink hippo existed in the Mara, but he had never seen it and had not been told where it lived. We were obviously very fortunate to have stumbled upon it by chance. As we were taking our photographs, we had no idea how rare the animal was, or if it had been photographed by others before us.
On returning to the UK, we set about researching the occurrence of pink hippos and found that there have only been a handful of recorded instances, mainly in Uganda. We could not find any reports of a pink hippo in the Masai Mara.