“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,” the HCP wrote in an August blog post, which included video from the May 31 encounter.
“These rare white giraffes shocked many locals, including myself, but they also gave us renewed energy to protect and save our unique wildlife,” Abdullahi Ali, founder of the Hirola Conservation Program, told Caters News Agency.
White giraffes are rarely spotted in the wild, and the conservation group said it’s aware of only two previous confirmed sightings — in Kenya and Tanzania. However, reports of white giraffe sightings go back as far as 1938, wildlife biologist Zoe Muller wrote in the African Journal of Ecology in 2016.
In Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park, a white giraffe calf, which a local tour guide named Omo, was first spotted in January 2015 and again in January 2016. A white giraffe was spotted near the same Kenyan conservancy in March 2016, near where the mother and calf were seen in May.
In all these cases, the giraffes appeared to be leucistic, not albino. Leucism is a condition that causes a partial lack of pigmentation.
“Leucism is often mistaken for albinism, but they are two different conditions,” Muller wrote, adding that unlike albinism, leucism generally doesn’t affect an animal’s eye color, and in some cases the animals “retain their species-specific coat pattern.”
The Nature Institue adds that “albino individuals lack melanin everywhere, including in the eyes, so the resulting eye color is red from the underlying blood vessels.”
Giraffes, of which there are at least four distinct species, were classified as “vulnerable” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature last year, meaning they are considered as threatened as African elephants.
As The Washington Post’s Ben Guarino wrote in December, an IUCN giraffe specialist group determined that the giraffe population declined to 97,562 in 2015, down from between 151,000 and 163,000 animals, according to a 1985 estimate.