Sightings of white giraffes causing a stir in Kenya
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.