The general view of African wildlife is one of healthy animals roaming the plains, with the sick and wounded not surviving, but there are many cases of animals overcoming deformities.
By Leigh Kemp
Deformities are a regular occurrence in the wild and although in many cases the individual is at a disadvantage I have observed a number of cases where the animal survives to adulthood. There are many kids of deformities that can render an animal at a disadvantage.
Albinism in Animals
Incidents of albinism are relatively common in the wild. These animals would normally be at a disadvantage due to them standing out in the bush. Possibly the most famous incident of albinism is that of the legendary white lions of South Africa. Pure white, it was first thought to be a case of albinism but has since been found to be a gene mutation that has carried through the generations.
An incidence of albinism that I recorded occurred in a male Kudu in the Chobe National Park in Botswana. This particular animal grew to adulthood, despite the stark contrasts of the white against the colours of the bush. The last sighting I had of this specific animal was when it disappeared into the bushes pursued by a lioness. It is unusual for the animal to have reached adulthood in such a predator-rich area.
Horn deformities in antelope usually show a problem with only one horn or two horns not in kilter with one another. This deformity does not have an effect on the health of the animal but it may be a hindrance in the breeding ability of the males when it comes to fighting for dominance.
For two seasons I monitored a male Lechwe in the Okavango Delta with what seemed like a horn deformity. The interesting thing was that the two horns were mirror images of each other in their deformity. The 'deformity' did not hinder the animal at all as during both seasons of monitoring it had a harem of females.
I was not there long enough to monitor the male offspring to see whether the deformity passed on. There was one other male with very similar horns that was part of a bachelor herd.
Physical Deformities at Birth
Although there are many cases of animals born with physical deformities surviving into adulthood, the odds of survival are against the individual in predator-rich areas, since the deformities will be quickly noticed by an opportunistic predator such as a Lion or Hyena.