Are these white giraffes in Kenya suffering from albinism or leucism?
Footage by the Hirola Conservation Program
Rangers at the Hirola Conservation Program (HCP) were unsurprisingly stunned when they spotted a pair of rare white giraffes, a mother and her calf, walking around in the Kenyan brush. Amazingly, the rangers were able to creep up close enough to take a video without spooking the giraffes. The footage showed the two giraffes without the characteristic brown spots and creamy coloring. According to a blog post by the HCP, the giraffes “were so close and extremely calm and seemed not disturbed by our presence.”
However, the giraffes weren't entirely unperturbed. “The mother kept pacing back and forth a few yards in front of us while signaling the baby Giraffe to hide behind the bushes—a characteristic of most wildlife mothers in the wild to prevent the predation of their young.” In spite of this, however, the rangers were able to capture amazing footage.
Still by the HCP
When the HCP posted the video on YouTube, many put in their two cents as to what made the giraffes look that way. A lot of commenters were quick to conclude that the giraffes had albinism, but it's likely that this isn't true. The giraffes probably had leucism, another genetic condition that may be interchangeable with albinism to the untrained eye.
Albinism is a congenital condition that inhibits the production of pigment in all organs, not just the skin. The condition also results in pink eyes. Leucism, meanwhile, prevents the production of pigment in the skin but not in other organs. Leucism doesn't present a genetic disadvantage when it comes to survival, though the bright white color is likely to make an animal more conspicuous.
According to the HCP, this isn't the first time that white giraffes have been spotted. In January 2016, there were reports of a young white giraffe sighting in Taranigire National Park in Tanzania. Later that March, there was another white giraffe sighting in the same conservancy as HCP. Thus, leucistic giraffes are rare, but this isn't the first time that they've been sighted. There may even be another sighting or two in the near future.
Still by the HCP
The HCP wonders in their blog post if the condition is becoming less rare in giraffes, given that these giraffes are the third and fourth white ones to be seen in less than two years. However, there seems to be no studies yet on the matter, though this may be something biologists may be interested in.
Another concern, voiced by the commenters in HCP's video post, is the safety of the mother and calf. As it is, over half of young giraffes don't make it past six months of age. This is due to in large part to falling prey to predators like lions. A white giraffe, as mentioned above, will be even more conspicuous. However, the commenters also point out that the video may reveal the giraffes' location to poachers.
The HCP has yet to announce their plans for protecting their rare white giraffes from harm, but those plans may be forthcoming.
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