A white female giraffe and her 7-month-old calf, whose rare pigmentation mesmerized villagers in Kenya and wildlife enthusiasts around the world, have been killed by poachers, the manager of a wildlife conservancy said on Tuesday.
Mohammed Ahmednoor, the manager of the Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy in northeastern Kenya, where the giraffes lived, said in a statement that rangers had confirmed their deaths and that there were photographs of the skeletal remains.
One male giraffe is the only surviving member of the family of white giraffes, Mr. Ahmednoor said.
“This is a very sad day for the community of Ijara and Kenya as a whole,” Mr. Ahmednoor said. “We are the only community in the world who are custodians of the white giraffe.” He said the killings were a setback to efforts to conserve a “unique species, and a wake-up call for continued support to conservation efforts.”
In 2017, a villager crossed paths with the adult female giraffe while herding animals — a discovery that sent conservationists scrambling to the site to get video footage of the anomaly. The adult was accompanied by a pale baby giraffe. It was not immediately clear what had happened to that calf or whether its skin pigmentation had changed as it aged.
White giraffes are extremely rare. A previous sighting of a white giraffe was reported in April 2016 in the same part of Kenya. According to National Geographic, scientists at the Wild Nature Institute, based in New Hampshire, first reported a newborn Masai giraffe calf in 2015 in Tanzania; a guide named her Omo, after a brand of popular detergent.
The white hue of the giraffes was caused by leucism, a genetic condition that inhibits pigmentation in skin cells.
Leucism is different than albinism. Animals with albinism produce no melanin throughout their entire bodies. Animals with leucism may have darker pigment in their soft tissue, and their eyes retain a normal color. The eyes of animals with albinism are usually red.
Giraffes are the world’s tallest land mammals and can grow to be 20 feet tall. There are about 111,000 giraffes in Africa, according to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. In some populations, 50 percent of calves don’t survive their first year, the foundation said.
Some giraffe subspecies, the Kordofan and Nubian giraffe, are designated as critically endangered, while others are considered vulnerable, the foundation said.
“This is a long-term loss given that genetics studies and research, which were significant investment into the area by researchers, have now gone down the drain,” Mr. Ahmednoor said. “Further to this the white giraffe was a big boost to tourism in the area.”