TANZANIA is home to seven of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage sites and as days unfold, new tourism attractions are emerging.
It is a country with many tourist attractions and approximately 38 percent of its land area is set aside in protected areas for conservation.
There are 16 national parks, 29 game reserves, 40 controlled conservation areas and tourism sector is growing rapidly.
In the Northern Zone of the country there are several national parks and one of them is Arusha National Park (ANAPA) that has, of late, developed a new tourist attraction in a white baboon that is drawing attention of onlookers.
The baboon was spotted in a troop of about 18 individuals that were normal, and all were feeding in a bush along alkaline Momela lakes in ANAPA that covers Mount Meru, a prominent volcano with an elevation of 4,566 metres in Arusha Region.
The baboon, as it is the case with others, is of the genus Papio. It was also seen drinking water from the lakes, delighting visitors who were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of him.
Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) Corporate Communications Manager, Mr Pascal Shelutete says a very rare species of baboon has been spotted and photographed by tourists, roaming around Arusha National Park along with the rest of its troop who did not seem to be disturbed by his unusual color.
He says that although unusually colored individuals in the animal kingdom is mostly a survival disadvantage to it as families and social groups could exclude them because they look foreign, the said baboon in ANAPA is getting along well with others in the troop.
“Wild animals that are white instead of their normal color quickly capture attention and imagination of tourists who observe them. They stand out among other animals with normal color, especially the ones that blend into their surroundings.
Though these species are very different on the outside, they differ only in small ways on the inside,” says Mr Shelutete. He notes that cells of the sighted baboon are incapable of making a pigment, which is normally a genetic condition and that rare baboons are not only the species only of wildlife with unusual color sighted in TANAPA.
He says that the white baboons have a greenish-grey coat covering their bodies. He sees hat tourists could increase their chance of discovering one of those rare oddities of nature by spending more time outdoors especially in national parks.
The condition results from partial loss of pigmentation, caused by a reduction in multiple types of pigment, not just melanin. This is not the first time that a baboon with leucism has been spotted in the wild.
In 2012, a white baby baboon was discovered and photographed in Zambia’s Mfuwe Lodge in South Luangwa National Park.
A tourism stakeholder who has been touring national parks, ANAPA included, Mr John Anselm is of the view that while it is not unusual to see large groups of baboons in Tanzania’s parks, it is a rare treat to see a white one.
He says that albino ba boons, so to call, are not generally a common sight in the wild as they struggle to survive in an environment that favours blending in. Starkly contrasting the browns and greens of the bush, they are easily visible to roaming predators, making them an easy target.
“When they are young, the majority of parents would reject their albino babies or the group may choose to exclude the unfamiliar members altogether. This leaves them fending for themselves and severely limits their chances of survival,” he says.
But luckily for safari goers, the young albino baboon was managing to survive against the odds and appears to be thriving. ANAPA environment and its small size makes it the ideal place to spot rare creatures that would generally otherwise be very difficult to discover.
The Momela lakes in ANA PA, where the baboon was spotted, are surrounded by a lush green rainforest, which hosts the beautiful black and white colobus monkeys as well.
The olive baboon (Papio anubis) also called the Anubis baboon is the most wide-ranging of all baboons, being found in 25 countries throughout Africa. The park is small but varied with spectacular landscapes in three distinct areas.
In the west, the Meru Crater funnels the Jekukumia River; the peak of Mount Meru lies on its rim. Ngurdoto Crater in the southeast is grassland. The shallow alkaline Momella Lakes in the north-east have varying algal colours and are known for their wading birds.
Ms Emily Chan says the adorable baboon was spotted along with the rest of the troop who did not seem to notice its unusual fur colour. That it is not albino as such but has a condition called ‘Leucism’ that only affects the pigment in its skin and fur.
A British photographer, Mr Charlie Lynam and his partner, Emma Franklin managed to capture the baboon on camera. Mr Lynam (57), from Liverpool, says that he had no idea that white baboons existed.
“We were driving along on a game drive when I spotted what I thought was a goat in amongst the baboon troop,’ he said. As I got closer I realised it was a white baboon. I was gobsmacked.
This was a first for me. I was determined to get some decent photos of the baboon but he was rather shy,” says Mr Lynam The baboons, he says, were out foraging in the national park and the white baboon seemed at ease among the troop.
He unveils that there was a small dirt road about 500 metres ahead of them, so he decided to park there and sit it out. ‘It worked; they became accustomed to my presence and just went about their business.
So I just clicked away. The white baboon was very much integrated with the troop and acting perfectly normally. This came totally out of the blue, I had no idea this white baboons existed,” he says.
Existence of the white baboon near Mount Meru, the second highest peak in Tanzania after Mount Kilimanjaro, which is just 60 kilometres away and forms a backdrop to views from the park to the east, might mean more attraction to tourists, locals and foreign.
ANAPA lies on a 300-kilometre axis of Africa’s most famous national parks, running from Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater in the west to Kilimanjaro National Park (KINAPA) in the east.
The park is just a few kilometres north east of Arusha, though the main gate is 25 kilometres east of the city. It is also 58 kilometres from Moshi and 35 kilometres from Kilimanjaro International Airport (KIA).
Mr Shelutete says that the park has a rich variety of wildlife. Despite the small size of the park, common animals include giraffe, Cape buffalo, zebra, warthog, the black-andwhite colobus monkey, the blue monkey, flamingo, elephant, lion and many other African animals.