“It is very rare, 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,” Derek Lee, Ph.D., WNI’s principal scientist, wrote in an email to CBS News.
Wildlife watchers at WNI say Omo gets her unusual coloration because her body surface cells are not capable of making pigment, but she is not albino. She is instead leucistic, which is when all or some of the pigment cells are unable to develop.
In a blog post about Omo from last year, the institute explained that one way to differentiate between albino and leucistic animals is that albino creatures lack melanin everywhere, including their eyes. This leaves these animals to have red eyes from their blood vessels. That is apparently not the case with Omo.
“We were thrilled to find her alive and well. About half of all giraffe calves are killed during their first year by lions, hyenas, and leopards. It is illegal for people 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 wrote.
“Unfortunately, all giraffes, not just the white ones like Omo, are threatened by bushmeat poaching. Fortunately, Omo lives in a national park, where she has the highest chance of survival thanks to anti-poaching efforts in the area.”
All of the media attention surrounding Omo will hopefully raise global awareness around the problems surrounding giraffes, Lee suggested. Giraffe populations have declined greatly across Africa, a product of both habitat loss and hunting for meat.
“The situation is so dire that in Africa today, there are currently four elephants for every one giraffe, so they are a threatened species,” Lee wrote. “We are studying giraffes in a mixed human-natural system that is representative of most of the remaining habitat for giraffes. We’ve already learned about the importance of protected areas and movement corridors between them to large, fragmented giraffe populations such as in Tarangire, and these lessons will help conserve giraffes throughout the continent. “