Just weeks after a giraffe at a U.S. zoo was born missing its characteristic spots, another spotless giraffe calf has now been seen and photographed in the wild for the first time.
The unprecedented sighting occurred at Mount Etjo Safari Lodge, a private game reserve in central Namibia. Tour guide Eckart Demasius saw and photographed the solid-brown calf during a game drive on the roughly 90,000-acre reserve, according to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. Demasius, who was not immediately available for comment, shared his photos with the giraffe nonprofit.
Sara Ferguson, a wildlife veterinarian and conservation health coordinator at the foundation, says the two recent spotless sightings are pure coincidence and that there’s no data to suggest this coloring is occurring more frequently than it had in the past.
This finding is just another example of “the weird way the world works” she says, adding that she’s “so amazed and pleased there is so much more to learn and discover about giraffe.”
The spotless reticulated giraffe born at Brights Zoo in Limestone, Tennessee, earlier this summer was recently named Kipekee, which means “unique” in Swahili. The recent wild sighting occurred in another giraffe subspecies found in southern Africa, the Angolan giraffe.
Before these recent births, a giraffe with all-brown coloring was last seen at a Tokyo zoo in 1972.
Scientists, including Ferguson, believe the solid coloring is likely due to one or more genetic mutations that haven’t yet been identified.
Some aspects of giraffe spots are passed down from mother to calf, according to a 2018 study in the journal PeerJ, and larger, rounder spots appear to be linked to higher survival rates for younger giraffes, but the reasons for that remain unclear.
Derek Lee, a biology professor at Penn State University and a co-author on the PeerJ study, says that technically these two recent examples are not spotless animals, but instead —"one-spot-all-over giraffes."
It’s impossible to say what this genetic anomaly means for the animal’s health, he says, but there’s no evidence the color difference puts the animal at a disadvantage.
“We have a sample size here of one, so time will tell what happens.”