With their elongated necks and bright bodies, it’s hard to miss a white giraffe, especially when there are two.
A white female and baby giraffe were first spotted on a reserve in Kenya in early August by rangers at the Hirola Conservation Program. Video they posted on YouTube recently skyrocketed in popularity as viewers marveled over the rarity of seeing the pale animal.
While many have been quick to label the giraffe as albino, it likely suffers from a genetic condition called leucism, which inhibits skin cells from producing pigment but allows other organs, like eyes, to be dark colored. Albinism, a congenital condition, inhibits the body from producing pigment in all organs, and animals with this condition often have pink eyes.
The condition, while rare, is not unheard of. It was last seen in a giraffe calf at Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park.
Despite their inability to produce colorful pigment, giraffes and other animals with leucism don’t face genetic disadvantages to their survival, but their color can attract unwanted attention.
More than half of all giraffes don’t make it past six months of age, according to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. They’re targeted by predators such as lions and hyenas.
In the comment section of the Hirola Conservation Program’s video, viewers also voiced concerns that widely circulating images of the animals and their location could make them more susceptible to poaching.
Following the birth of a white giraffe in their refuge, the Tarangire National Park took care to ensure the giraffe was safe from poachers. Hirola has not announced any such security.
Hirola noted in a blog post that this was the first time many of the community rangers had seen a white giraffe. They anecdotally wondered if the genetic condition is becoming more common, but no studies revealed whether this could be true.