BARCELONA – Spanish primatologist Jordi Sabater Pi, who found Copito de Nieve (Snowflake), the world’s only known albino gorilla, died at his home here, relatives told Efe. He was 87.
Sabater Pi was one of the best known people in the Spanish academic world because of his contributions to ethology – the study of animal behavior – and his extensive scientific work, but what made him famous around the world was his discovery in the jungles of Equatorial Guinea of Copito de Nieve, who became the symbol of the scientist’s native Barcelona.
Sabater Pi became a self-taught ethologist and anthropologist during his 1940-1969 stay in the former Spanish colony of Equatorial Guinea, where he began his field research.
In October 1966, several hunters in Equatorial Guinea went after a group of gorillas that was threatening their crops. They killed a female, and later found the baby gorilla cradled in his dead mother’s arms.
The hunters sold the baby to Sabater Pi, then-director of the Ikunde Zoological Adaptation and Experimentation Center, a facility affiliated with the Barcelona Zoo, where researchers studied the animal life in Equatorial Guinea.
The gorilla lacked the pigment melanin that colors skin, hair and feathers in humans and other mammals.
Copito de Nieve, who once graced the cover of National Geographic and became a popular attraction at the Barcelona Zoo among Spaniards and foreign visitors alike, died in 2003.
Sabater Pi, who was married and had two sons, donated his personal papers and vast collection of other items to the University of Barcelona, where he was a professor emeritus.
The collection contains more than 2,000 drawings, watercolors and field notes of great scientific interest, as well as books, magazines and ethological items from Africa. EFE