White Giraffe With Rare Skin Condition Spotted, But ‘Pale’ Animal May Fall Victim To Meat Poachers

She’s a beauty, but by golly, this animal is lucky to be alive.

Her name is Omo, a white giraffe in Tanzania with an “extremely rare” skin condition. She was spotted in the African bush recently, according to a Mirror report. The 15-month old animal suffers from leucism, which means there is an absence of melanin, a pigment that gives a host its color, according to the Mother Nature Network (MNN).

Oddly there’s a difference between albinism and a leucistic appearance; the eyes offer telltale signs. On the one hand, albinism means an organism is white or has a pale yellow look. In addition, their eyes are very pale with reddish or pinkish colors.

Contrarily, the white Masai giraffe’s condition means it only has little or no pigmentation. If an animal has this, it manifests in a colorless trait in the skin, feathers, hair and other areas of the body. However, the eyes are not affected.

Dr. Derek Lee is a founder of the Wild Nature Institute in Weaverville, North Carolina. The ecologist, an expert in quantitative biology, and his colleagues are advocates in giraffe conservation. While surveying a dense area in Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park, Lee struck gold.

He noticed the white-colored giraffe grazing under protection of her herd that didn’t seem to mind the member of their group that stood out like a ghost. Dr. Lee said the white giraffe is the first he’s seen of this rare species. Nonetheless, he’s seen a cape buffalo, waterbuck and ostrich with leucism.

“Omo appears to get along with the other giraffes, she has always been seen with a large group of normally colored giraffe – they don’t seem to mind her different coloring.

“Omo is now 15 months old – she survived her first year as a small calf, which is the most dangerous time for a young giraffe due to lion, leopard and hyena preying on them.”

Despite her unusual color, the giraffe is likely to thrive well into adulthood. Usually, similar animals fall victim to predators due to their lack of camouflage or ability to blend in with their surroundings. Alpha predators with this white skin trait suffer in a similar way because their prey can see them coming.

Poachers are another problem altogether. Although Omo has assimilated well with her herd and passed a critical survival test, her white color makes her a prime target for illegal hunters. Her white hide and body parts demand a premium on black markets. Additionally, giraffe meat is a hot commodity, and with her color, it makes the work of poachers easier.

“We and our partners are working on giraffe conservation and anti-poaching to help give Omo and her relatives a better chance of survival. We hope that she lives a long life and that some day she has calves of her own.”

In 1993, stories cropped up about a legendary white adult giraffe roaming in the same park of the most recent sighting, according to National Geographic. Charles Foley works with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). He learned about the giraffe, but had never observed one in the wild. A year later, buzz waned about the giraffe. However, he kept up his search, and in 2005, he got lucky.

While collecting data during an aerial survey in Tanzania on an elephant population in the park, Foley noticed the animal roaming through the bush with its family. Foley said his find wasn’t the original mammal seen a decade early; he compared photos of his white giraffe to the one seen in the early ’90s. He and other conservationists hope the discovery inspires governments to do more to save these creatures and others from encroachment and extinction.

[Image via: AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki]

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