The Atlanta Zoo in the United States is home to Anaka, a western lowland gorilla that has captured the world’s attention. Zoo employees shared photos of Anaka in which a surprising detail can be seen: one of her hands has nails instead of claws and clearly human pigmentation.
The hand in question has no pigment and its skin is pink, giving it a completely human appearance. Despite this, Anaka’s hand retains typical gorilla characteristics, such as optional thumbs and unique fingerprints, which are used by researchers to differentiate between different individuals of the species.
What makes Anaka’s hand look so human-like is vitiligo, a disease that causes a lack of pigmentation in the skin. This disorder does not pose a threat to Anaka’s health, as it is merely cosmetic and there is no treatment to reverse it. Vitiligo is usually hereditary and in some cases manifests as albinism, the total absence of pigment in the skin.
Despite being a gorilla, Anaka exhibits very human-like behavior, more so than other members of her species. Zookeepers report that Anaka “screams at her mother and others for food and juice” and that it is common to see her climbing on the backs of her siblings at play.
Anaka’s story is a reminder of the importance of protecting gorillas, an endangered species. Thirty years ago, it was estimated that there were 17,000 gorillas in the world, while today the number is believed to have dwindled to fewer than 9,000. With increasing habitat loss and poaching, it is vital that we take action to ensure the survival of these animals that are so close to us in terms of genetics and behavior.