July 2024

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In Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park, a special giraffe has been spotted. She is named Omo, after a local brand of detergent, and she has a very rare genetic condition.

A special case

Omo may look like she is an albino, but that is not the case. She has a condition called leucism. Wild Nature Institute, who spotted the giraffe, explained that albino animals have no melanin anywhere. If Omo were albino, her eyes would have been red. Plus, there are a few areas of her skin – like the bottom half of her legs – with normal coloration. Derek Lee, the founder of the institute, said: “

Leucism is a genetic condition that results in some of her skin cells being unable to create pigments, so she ends up looking very pale, with only vague patterns compared to a normal giraffe’s coloration.”  Lee noted that it is an extremely rare condition.  “This is only the second record of a white giraffe in Tarangire over the past 20 years or so, among more than 3,000 giraffes in the area.”

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At risk

This is not the first time Omo has been seen. Workers at the Wild Nature Institute encountered her almost exactly a year ago.  

“We were lucky enough to resight her again this January, almost exactly one year later,” the institute said. “We are thrilled that she is still alive and well.”  

Young giraffe calves are hunted by lions, hyenas, and leopards. Omo is now 15 months old, so she has passed that vulnerable stage. However, many are worried that her condition will put her at risk for poaching.

“Being so bright and visible could be a disadvantage when hunted by visual predators like humans,” Lee said.  “However, many poachers use leg and neck snares which are indiscriminate killers,” he added.

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Raising awareness

“Unfortunately, all giraffes, not just the white ones like Omo, are threatened by bushmeat poaching,” Lee said.

Since Omo lives in a national park, she has a high chance of survival.  Hopefully, her story can bring attention to the dire situation African giraffe are in.

 “…in Africa today, there are currently four elephants for every one giraffe, so they are a threatened species,” Lee said.  Humans hunt the animals for their meat and hide. “It is illegal to kill giraffes in Tanzania, as it is the national animal, but illegal market hunting for meat is well known to be rampant around Tarangire,” Lee said. 

And their hides are desired for being thick and durable. Giraffe skin is often used for clothes, shoes, accessories, and drum covers. The African Wildlife Foundation states that their tails are also highly sought after in many African cultures. The tails are used for good-luck bracelets, threat, and fly whisks; many giraffes are killed solely for their tail. In addition to poaching, the giraffe population is threatened by human expansion. People are taking away their habitats and vital food sources. The AWF’s solutions are to educate local communities living near giraffes on sustainable agriculture and to reforest key areas.

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