A rare white reticulated giraffe and her 7-month-old calf, whose pale coats captivated wildlife enthusiasts back in 2017 when they first made headlines, have fallen victim to poachers in Kenya. It's a devastating blow for the conservation of rare animals and shines a light on the unrelenting problem of poaching.

Footage of the rare giraffes filmed by the Hirola Conservation Programme in 2017.

Wildlife officials from the Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy in eastern Kenya discovered the remains of the giraffes "in a skeletal state after being killed by armed poachers," they explained in a statement. It is estimated that the animals were killed about four months ago. The reserve is now home to just a single white giraffe – a male from the same family.

“We are the only community in the world who are custodians of the white giraffe,” said Mohammed Ahmednoor, manager of the Ishaqbini Hirola conservancy. The recent deaths are "a blow to the tremendous steps taken by the community to conserve rare and unique species, and a wake-up call for continued support to conservation efforts."

The pale-coated giraffes first stirred global interest three years ago when local villagers in a remote corner of Kenya reported sightings of the unusual animals. Members of the Hirola Conservation Programme followed the locals' stories and were lucky enough to film the giraffes – the resulting footage was shared widely online.

While many initially attributed the giraffes' pale colouration to albinism, it's actually caused by a different genetic condition called leucism that results in the partial loss of pigmentation in the skin or hair. Unlike in cases of albinism, which results in a total loss of pigment and also affects the eyes turning them red, leucistic animals have normal coloured eyes and may have blotchy patterns on their coats.

According to assessments by the IUCN, giraffe numbers have declined by as much as 40% in the last three decades as a result of poaching and habitat loss. This figure jumps up to 56% in the case of reticulated giraffes – a subspecies found in the north and east of Kenya (and possibly in small populations in southern Ethiopia and south-western Somalia). The latest estimates from aerial surveys show that fewer than 16,000 of these animals still reside in Kenya making their conservation a matter of urgency.

Kenya, like many African nations, leans heavily on wildlife as a source of tourism revenue and, as such, the nation is particularly hard-hit by the illegal killing of wild animals. Ahmednoor expressed his disappointment and sadness at the slaughter of the alabaster giraffes stating that they were "a big boost to tourism in the area."

The Kenya Wildlife Service is investigating the incident.