Rare White Giraffe Reportedly Shot Dead, Leaving Her Calf to Starve to Death Days Later

The only white female giraffe in Kenya has died, it was confirmed on Tuesday after park officials recovered the body of the rare animal and her calf.

According to Ishaqbini Conservancy officials, the mother was likely killed by poachers in Ijara, Garissa County. The body is thought to be three to four months old and was found alongside that of her calf, who seems to have died from hunger after the mother died, Newsweek was told.

"This is a very sad day for the community of Ijara and Kenya as a whole," said Mohammed Ahmednoor, the manager of Ishaqbini Hirola Conservancy, in a statement sent to Newsweek. "We are the only community in the world who are custodians of the white giraffe.

"Its killing is a blow to tremendous steps taken by the community to conserve rare and unique species, and a wake up call for continued support to conservation efforts."

As well as conservation, the news is a blow to science and tourism.

"This is a long term loss given that genetics studies and research, which were [a] significant
investment into the area by researchers, has now gone to the drain," said Ahmednoor.

"Further to this the white giraffe was a big boost to tourism in the area."

The giraffe became famous thanks to its unusually ghost-like appearance—a trait caused not by albinism, but a condition called leucism.

Unlike albino animals, those with leucism continue to produce darker pigments in their soft tissue. This means that though their skin and hair are white, their eyes are dark rather than red, as is typically the case in instances of albinism.

As Newsweek reported in 2016, the coloring may be eye-catching but it can be problematic from a safety point of view, making it more visible to predators such as lions—as well as human poachers.

White giraffes are rare but not unique. According to Atlas Obscura, sightings were recorded in 1956, 2005, 2011 and 2015. The condition has also been spotted in other animals, including cobras and woodpeckers.

Leucism can be inherited and, as seen in the video below, it can be passed from mother to child. The calf who died was the second birth from this particular female giraffe, leaving one lone bull giraffe that carries on the family's white genes, officials say.

The giraffes were first spotted in June 2017, following a report from a villager near to the Ishaqbini Conservancy.

"Nature is always stunning and continue 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," Dr. Abdullahi Ali, Hirola Conservation Programme Director & Founder, said at the time.

"I am positive these rare giraffes will change the perception of outsiders regarding north eastern Kenya in which many people have negative perceptions."

white giraffe and her calf
The white giraffe and her calf. Officials confirmed their death on Tuesday. Ishaqbini Conservancy