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2006 03 18
Lucky White Squirrels?
The Neighbourhood Group Show at the Park Gallery (1038 Queen St. West, until next Sunday, March 26th) is a mixed media show paying homage to Parkdale and the resident squirrels. It is curated by gallery owner, Julia Burton. Based on the legend of an albino squirrel population in the Queen St. area, the submission from moimoi design explains through information graphics the odds that would allow an albino squirrel popuation to emerge under certain genetic conditions.

Below are the text from the submission and details from the two posters that visualize the albino squirrel family tree and the matrix of squirrels indicating the approximate 1:20,000 chance that a squirrel is an albino.

Lucky White Squirrels?

So how lucky are you really when you chance to spot an albino squirrel? Well according to native North American mythology not lucky at all, deigned worthy perhaps, but not lucky. Geneticists everywhere would acknowledge the existence of the white squirrel as a combination of luck and destiny using words like predisposed and relative occurrence to distill these two factors into a more reasoned scientific term. Great thinkers like Hawking, DuChamp, Freud and Derrida might agree that it is the active provision that shapes us creatively insofar as positing and recognizing the random chance event as the subtext for generative acts of all kinds.

According to native North American mythologies the occurrence of an albino animal was not the absolute result of come-by-chance luck, but more so the outcome of spiritual intervention and, depending on the sighting, a range of responses were deemed appropriate - killing an albino squirrel resulted in the hunter suffering a loss of his hunting abilities and killing albino deer resulted in an untimely accident for the hunter. In each and every case the hunter was faced with a moral decision to not take advantage of what in hunting terms was an easy kill. Moreover, native belief equated the existence of the albino animal, given obvious disadvantages, to survival under the hand of a spiritual protectorate. For some tribes, as in the case of the Dakotas, the birth of the albino buffalo, was seen as a spiritual sign or in this instance a harbinger of peace, prosperity, unity and hope.

From a geneticist’s point-of-view the chance of an animal carrying the recessive gene for albinism is approximately 1 in 200. The rarity of albinism is compounded by the fact that two squirrels carrying the recessive gene must find each other. Should this occur, there is a 1 in 4 chance their union could result in an albino baby. For instance, given a population of 100,000 squirrels there is a 1 in 5,000 chance that two squirrels carrying the recessive gene will mate. From these 20 mating pairs a maximum total of 5 albino babies could result.

Beyond this, given considerations of survival both in the urban context and for the fact that albino animals are more susceptible to harm by ultra-violet radiation, typically have poor eyesight, and have less robust immune systems, the odds increase even further. All of these factors may to some degree be offset by the fact that parks are ostensibly breeding islands in the city.

In both the scientific and cultural determination the role of chance in the creation of the albino squirrel/animal is inferred as it is next to impossible to determine the exact occurrence of something, only the possibility based on past trends and frequencies. The real difference between the two lies in the degree of recognition the role of chance plays in the shaping of the world we live in and how we choose to live in it. It is not about control but rather about being ‘open’ to the possibility of the other, in this case the happy accidental fate of the albino squirrel.

[email this story] Posted by moimoi design on 03/18 at 10:01 PM

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