Whether it's all-white orcas or ghostly lemurs, leucistic animals are always a striking sight. But when the pale creature also happens to be the tallest animal on the planet – shining like a beacon on the African landscape and standing alongside her equally eye-catching offspring – it makes for a particularly awesome view.

This was the spectacle enjoyed earlier this year by villagers and conservationists at the Ishaqbini conservancy in Kenya, and they were kind enough to share some footage of the pale pair with the rest of us. 

After hearing reports in June of a white mother and baby reticulated giraffe, members of the Hirola Conservation Programme followed the locals' stories to see the animals in person.

"They were so close and extremely calm and seemed not disturbed by our presence," the team described on their website. "The mother kept pacing back and forth a few yards in front of us while signalling the baby giraffe to hide behind the bushes."

The giraffes have a condition called leucism, which is different from albinism. Albino animals (like Pearl the alligator or Migaloo the whale) lack pigment completely in all the tissues of their bodies, leaving them stark white and often with red or pink eyes. Leucistic creatures, on the other hand, are only partially pigment-free; these giraffes' dark-coloured eyes give away the nature of their genetic condition.

(Other leucistic animals we've spotted recently include a white-skinned, black-eyed great white shark and a patchwork-patterned dolphin.)

White giraffes are rare, but not unheard of. One was reportedly seen last March in the same region of Kenya, and a newborn Maasai giraffe in Tanzania's Tarangire National Park (first observed in January of last year) came to be known as Omo, inspired by a local brand of laundry detergent (last we heard, the Wild Nature Institute was fishing for new name suggestions).  

It's pretty incredible that several giraffes with this genetic condition have been glimpsed recently, given the rarity of leucistic animals. And sadly, even conventionally coloured giraffes are becoming scarce due to habitat loss and poaching: the IUCN reports that there are now fewer than 100,000 of the towering mammals across Africa, down 40% from only 20 years ago. Within the Maasai populations, where these ivory beauties live, the numbers are even lower, with a total count of only around 35,000. Reticulated giraffes, meanwhile, are estimated at under 9,000.

A study last year found a surprising level of diversity among giraffes, and suggested that they should be considered four separate species, a change that would alter how we view their ecological roles and conservation status.

"[I]n partnership with local communities, relevant authorities in Kenya and international partners, we promise to protect these beauties and their vital habitat," says Abdullahi Ali of the Hirola Conservation Programme. “We are also curious to know the daily whereabouts of these giraffes, so we will keep an eye on them."



Top header image: Pixabay