Kenya wildlife officials have confirmed the death of the nation’s only female all-white giraffe and her equally rare calf.
In a statement shared on Twitter, conservation organization Ishaqbini Hirola Conservancy described images of the giraffe in a “skeletal state” after she was reportedly killed by armed poachers. The calf was born last August and made up the third in a triad of white giraffes. Now, just the bull remains.
“This is a very sad day for the community of Ijara and Kenya as a whole. We are the only community in the world who are custodians to the white giraffe. Its killing is a blow to tremendous steps taken by the community to conserve rare and unique species and a wakeup call for continued support to conservation efforts,” said Mohammed Ahmednoor, manager of Ishaqbini Hirola Conservancy based in Garissa County, where the giraffes were located.
IFLScience contacted the conservation and Northern Rangelands Trust to verify the cause of death for both the mother and her calf but have not received a response at the time of publication. A report published earlier this year by the conservation organization highlighted the ongoing conflict between people in the region and giraffes. Many communities have transformed from nomadic pastoralists to farmers who irrigate water from the nearby river, which can block the giraffes’ known watering locations and force them to traverse through farms, damaging crops in their path. Farmers have also reportedly employed snares, pitfall traps, and other measures to deter giraffes from neighboring mango farms whose flowers have become a favorite.
The female giraffe first made headlines in 2017 when videos and images of her and another calf went viral. Their unique white hide is the result of a condition known as leucism that results in partial loss of color pigments. Leucism is different than albinism in that the animal continues to produce dark pigment in soft tissue like eyes. According to a blog post shared by the Hirola Conservation, communities near the park presented “mixed reactions” to the leucistic giraffes, many of whom had never seen a giraffe and were unsure as to what was causing the condition.
"Nature is always stunning and continues to surprise humanity! These rare snow-white giraffes shocked many locals including myself but these gave us renewed energy to protect and save our unique wildlife,” said Hirola Conservation Program Director and Founder, Dr Abdullahi Ali at the time.
Officials add that the loss hampers genetics studies and research planned to focus on the white giraffes and may affect future tourism to the area.