Sight­ings of white gi­raffes caus­ing a stir in Kenya

The Buffalo News - - WORLD NEWS - By Yonette Joseph

A vil­lager in Kenya was herd­ing an­i­mals re­cently when he came upon a head-turn­ing sight. A ghostly crea­ture with a mighty long neck was graz­ing off in the dis­tance.

Upon closer in­spec­tion, the vi­sion was re­vealed to be a fe­male retic­u­lated gi­raffe – tall, ma­jes­tic and preter­nat­u­rally white – and she was ac­com­pa­nied by a smaller ap­pari­tion: a pale baby gi­raffe. The sight­ings in June, in Garissa county near the Ishaqbini Hi­rola Con­ser­vancy, sent the vil­lager scur­ry­ing off to tell rangers, the founder of the Hi­rola Con­ser­va­tion Pro­gram said Thurs­day. The news has been ric­o­chet­ing across con­ti­nents and mak­ing head­lines since.

Con­ser­va­tion­ists who hur­ried to the site man­aged to cap­ture what is be­lieved to be the first known video footage of white gi­raffes, said Ab­dul­lahi H. Ali, who founded Hi­rola and has been work­ing to con­serve the crit­i­cally en­dan­gered hi­rola an­te­lope in the east­ern part of the coun­try.

The white gi­raffes dis­played the char­ac­ter­is­tics of a ge­netic con­di­tion known as leu­cism, which in­hibits pig­men­ta­tion in skin cells, Ali said. The con­di­tion oc­curs across the an­i­mal king­dom. Birds, lions, fish, pea­cocks, pen­guins, ea­gles, hip­pos, moose and snakes have all dis­played the trait.

Leu­cism is not al­binism, how­ever: An­i­mals with al­binism pro­duce no melanin through­out their en­tire bod­ies. An­i­mals with leu­cism may have darker pig­ment in their soft tis­sue, and their eyes re­tain a nor­mal color. The eyes of an­i­mals with al­binism are usu­ally red. It was un­clear if, un­der the hot African sun, the gi­raffes’ skin was vul­ner­a­ble to dam­age, Ali said. The rangers did not get close enough to ex­am­ine the mother and baby.

The com­mu­ni­ties in the area were “ex­cited” about the sight­ings of leucis­tic gi­raffes, Ali said, and they were band­ing to­gether to pro­tect them.

Gi­raffes have been de­clared “vul­ner­a­ble” to ex­tinc­tion be­cause of poach­ing and a loss of habi­tat, ac­cord­ing to the Red List of Threat­ened Species pub­lished in 2016 by the In­ter­na­tional Union for the Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture.

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