Officials at a wildlife sanctuary in Kenya discovered the carcasses of two rare white giraffes — a mother and her calf — earlier today. Due to the skeletal state of their remains, investigators estimate that they were killed several months ago by poachers, reports BBC.
According to the article, no one had seen the two giraffes for over three months. After finding the bodies of the two giraffes, the sanctuary reached out to the Kenya Wildlife Society, who will further investigate the killings.
“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 of the white giraffe. Its killing is 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,” said Mohammed Ahmednoor, the manager of the Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy, in a statement.
At this time, the motives of the poachers and any information on their identities remain unclear.
A single white giraffe, a male, remains at the sanctuary. BBC reports that it may be the last remaining white giraffe in the world.
In 2016, the giraffes were spotted for the first time in Kenya. Their white color comes from a condition called leucism, which causes a lack of pigmentation in skin cells, according to the article. Contrary to popular belief, it is not the same thing as albinism. One key difference is in eye color, as species exhibiting leucism will retain dark-colored eyes while those with albinism have pink eyes.
The first photographs of the giraffes went viral, and the animals immediately made headlines for their gorgeous appearance and rarity.
It is not only the white giraffe population that is in danger. Per the BBC article, the giraffe population has been reduced by approximately 40 percent in the last 30 years. Poachers are mostly responsible for this due to their hunt for giraffe meat and skin.
CNN reports that not only is the death of these white giraffes a considerable blow to the animal conservancy, but it will likely impact tourism and research as well. Many people visited the sanctuary to see the white giraffes. Videos of the creatures on YouTube have racked up millions of views.
The outlet quoted an additional statement from Ahmednoor.
“This is a long term loss given that genetics studies and research which were significant investment into the area by researchers, has now gone to the drain.”
However, the CNN article does indicate that at least one other white giraffe was once spotted in Tanzania back in 2016. It is not clear what happened to that animal.