In Depth

Ultra-rare white giraffes spotted in Kenya

The mother and calf are only the third recorded example of leucistic giraffes in history

A pair of giraffes with a rare genetic mutation that turns their skin white has been captured on camera for only the third time in history.

The mother and calf were first spotted by locals in the Ishaqbini conservation area, northern Kenya, in June. Last month, rangers from the Hirola Conservation Program, which manages the protected area, came face-to-face with the creatures and captured their close encounter on video.

“They were so close and extremely calm and seemed not disturbed by our presence,” the HCP wrote in a blog. “The mother kept pacing back and forth a few yards in front of us while signalling the baby giraffe to hide behind the bushes.”

Their unusual appearance is due to a condition called leucism, rather than the better-known albinism. While albinism means a total loss of one form of pigmentation, leucism is a partial loss of all pigmentation.

This is only the third known instance of the rare genetic mutation in the species.

The first documented sighting occurred in January 2016, in a national park in Tanzania. Locals named the white calf Omo after a popular local brand of detergent, National Geographic reports.

Two months later, a second white giraffe was seen in the same Kenyan conservation park.

The mother and calf are an extremely rare example of an increasingly rare breed. The reticulated giraffe, also called the Somali giraffe, is considered a “vulnerable” subspecies.

“As recently as the turn of the millennium, some 36,000 remained,” according to the Reticulated Giraffe Project. That number is now thought to be around 8,500.

A ranger identified as Bashir told the HCP that the white giraffes appeared to be a new phenomenon.

“I remember when I was a kid, we never saw them. It must be very recent and we are not sure what is causing it,” he said.

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