On EleFACT Friday, we like to bring you facts about elephants that you may have never heard, elaborate on some lesser-known theories, and share more detailed stories about the sanctuary elephants and their anatomy. Today, however, we’ll be busting a myth.
You may have heard of the phrase “seeing pink elephants” to describe someone who’s maybe had a bit too much to drink. But is there any validity to that phrase?
Seeing a pink elephant isn’t actually impossible, although it is extremely rare and doesn’t have anything to do with a night out on the town. There are some elephants with a condition called leucism, which causes an abnormal or reduced pigmentation that is marked by an overall pale color. The animals have a genetic mutation that inhibits melanin and other pigments from being deposited in their skin or hair. Different from albinism, this condition can actually lead to elephant calves appearing as pink, since it causes their skin to be a much lighter shade of red or brown.
Leucistic elephants’ pigmentation typically darkens as they grow older, only leaving pink behind their ears. Spotting a fully pink calf in the wild is extremely rare. Elephants experiencing this condition may encounter issues in harsh weather conditions, as sunlight can be extremely damaging to their lighter skin.
In Asian elephants, pink skin can be present and seen as speckling across their bodies, which is due to a lack of pigmentation and not leucism. This can be influenced by genetics, nutrition, habitat, or age.
Photo of Maia, showing off her speckled skin pigment