Albino squirrel photographed in Deepdene Wood
FIVE-TOED cockerels are the traditional symbol of Dorking, but in recent years another animal has also come to symbolise the town.
The discovery of an albino squirrel – which became known as Albi – made national and even international news during the noughties.
His death beneath the wheels of a car in Mill Lane in 2009 featured in TV news reports as far afield as the USA.
But even after Albi's solemn burial, local sightings of albino squirrels continued, including three sighted together in Bookham and another – dubbed Albi II – seen in Ashcombe Road in June 2011.
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The latest photograph was taken by Deepdene Wood resident Alan Thompson, whose wife Julie saw one of the creatures snacking on birdseed in their back garden.
Mr Thompson, 67, a member of Dorking Camera Club, told the Advertiser: "My wife saw it and said 'Quick, grab a camera'. I put a long lens on and took them out of the kitchen window.
"It was just about six feet away and was there sitting up a tree for about five minutes.
"There were other grey squirrels busily feeding but it didn't seem worried at all.
"I have read that greys tend to attack the white ones so we were a bit surprised."
He added: "We get quite a lot of wildlife up here.
"We've seen badgers, and foxes quite regularly, but never an albino squirrel and we've lived here 20 years."
Mr Thompson said his encounter had inspired him to research the subject online.
"I found there are probably only 22 in the country, which I can't believe," he said. "A lot of them seem to live in Surrey, which is very strange."
A Google search for "albino squirrels in Surrey" returns 54,100 hits, while the top-rated result for "albino squirrels" – out of 1.4 million – is a BBC article about sightings in the county.
But this week Florin Feneru, of the Natural History Museum, said the town of Exeter in Ontario, Canada, comfortably outstripped Surrey with its almost exclusively white squirrel population.
The large number of sightings of mutant Eastern Grey squirrels – Sciurus carolinensis – in Dorking was most likely down to pure chance, he added.
"Albino squirrels are fairly well known and are just genetic aberrations," he said. "There is little chance that Surrey is a stronghold for them.
"The species has white, black, and cream mutations. Mutations occur randomly in mammal populations, and with a bit of chance can become established as local or captive populations.
"However, in the wild white coats don't offer enough camouflage and are weeded out by natural selection."