The world's first and only albino panda finally lumbered past a motion-sensitive field camera in the mountains of China earlier this year – the first time it's been spotted since 2019.
Thankfully, the unique creature seems to be growing up happy and healthy in the Wolong National Nature Reserve, a protected region in the Sichuan province that is home to roughly 150 giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca).
But only this one is known to be white.
The famous individual is the bearer of a rare genetic mutation that turns the species' usual black-and-white fur a uniform pale cream color.
It appears to be an albino animal. This means it carries a mutation that interferes with pigment production in the skin, eyes, and hair. But there's a chance this genetic condition can also result in physical impairments or disease.
It's been four years since field cameras first caught sight of China's albino panda, and yet there's still no sign that the five- or six-year-old is sick in any way.
Even though it's the black sheep of the panda community, it seems to fit in just fine. In footage from February, recently aired by China's state broadcaster, the all-white panda was shown interacting with a mother panda and her roughly two-year-old cub as they nestled in the hollow of a tree.
"By the end of February, adult wild pandas in Wolong are in the estrus (mating) season, during which female pandas with cubs can be very aggressive when an adult panda approaches or invades," engineer Wei Rongping from the China Conservation and Research Center for Giant Pandas told China Daily.
"This female panda was extremely calm and did not behave as expected. One possibility is that she is the mother of the all-white panda."
Field cameras in the wildlife sanctuary recorded more than a dozen further interactions between the albino panda and other pandas in the region.
According to the South China Morning Post, there's even a video of the white panda playing with a black-and-white peer.
Don't miss this ultra-rare chance! An all-white panda was spotted in the Wolong National Nature Reserve in southwest China's Sichuan Province. Watch this lovable, one-of-a-kind creature approach a female panda and her cub, who are believed to be its mother and sibling pic.twitter.com/vmJEluCtVM— China Xinhua News (@XHNews) May 30, 2023
The albino panda's sex hasn't yet been determined, but researchers say it is almost the size of an adult now and shows signs of sexual maturity.
To learn more about the creature, researchers are hoping to catch more footage of it and possibly snag a bit of its DNA.
If the panda does end up reproducing with another of its kind, experts aren't sure if its genetic quirk will be inherited or not.