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This is not a tall story: Rare white giraffes spotted in Kenya

What’s tall, white and has a long neck?

environment Updated: Sep 14, 2017 16:02 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Rare white giraffes,White giraffe,Kenya
The giraffes are white because a genetic condition called leucism.(Video screengrab )

What’s tall, white and has a long neck?

A pair of rare white giraffe, believed to be mother and child, were spotted at the Ishaqbini Hirola Conservancy in Kenya’s Garissa county.

The giraffes are white because of leucism, a genetic condition that inhibits pigmentation in cells. Leucism is unlike Albinism because it limits pigmentation partially -- meaning the dark pigment is produced in soft tissue, which explains the dark coloured eyes of the giraffes. Albinism results in complete or partial absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes.

Leucism is uncommon among animals but not entirely unknown. Penguins, eagles and hippos have been spotted with the genetic condition.

A HCP blog post last week said locals had informed the group about white giraffes at the conservancy in June. “They were so close and extremely calm and seemed not disturbed by our presence. The mother kept pacing back and forth a few yards in front of us while signalling the baby giraffe to hide behind the bushes – a characteristic of most wildlife mothers in the wild to prevent the predation of their young.”

The Hirola Conservation Programme (HCP) is a NGO dedicated to promoting conservation of hirola antelope in eastern Kenya.

There have been only two previous sightings of white giraffes -- a three-year-old giraffe calf named ‘Omo’ was spotted in January 2016 at Tanzania’s Tarangire National park, and a second sighting was reported from Ishaqbini conservancy in Kenya in March 2016, the post said.

Omo’s survival was hailed as good news because more than half of the giraffe calfs die before they’re 6 months old and they are hunted by predators, the National Geographic reported.

In 2016, the body that maintains the world’s endangered species list, International Union for the Conservation of Nature, attributed the species under ‘Vulnerable’ status in its Red List of Threatened Species. “Years of habitat destruction and poaching have reduced giraffe numbers by 30 percent, placing them in the vulnerable category for the first time,” an article in the Smithsonian Magazine said.

First Published: Sep 14, 2017 15:58 IST