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Rare White Giraffe Survived Her First Year

The 15-month old calf has so far survived possible predation from lions, leopards, hyenas and human poachers

Omo hanging with her herd (DEREK LEE / CATERS NEWS)
smithsonian.com

Almost one year after her first sighting, wildlife biologists were thrilled to spot a beautiful giraffe calf with unusual coloring in Tarangire National Park, according to the Wild Nature Institute's blog

The calf, called Omo after a popular brand of detergent, is leucistic, meaning she lacks much of the pigment carried by a typically-colored giraffe. Unlike albino animals, Omo does have some color: her mane is rusty-red, the tuft of her tail black and her eyes are the dark pools of most giraffes, fringed by long, pale lashes. Albinism, caused by complete pigment loss, is marked by very pale eyes that appear pink or red because of blood vessels showing through, writes Liz Boatman for Berkely Science Review. Leucism is low pigment, which is why Omo's eyes are still dark, and the faint pattern of a giraffe's spots still speckles her sides. 

“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," ecologist Derek Lee, founder of the Wild Nature Institute, tells Mark Molloy at The Telegraph

Already the strikingly-colored creature has survived her first 15 months—the most dangerous time for young giraffes that can fall prey to lions, leopards and hyenas. Now she faces a new danger that may dog her for the rest of her life: human poachers. 

Unusually colored animals can become a target for poachers and hunters simply because of their appearance. An albino roe deer, living in the U.K. allegedly prompted one German hunter to offer more than £5,400 (roughly $7,655 at the time) for the animal, The Independent reported in 2009.

Albino corn snakes fetch a higher price than their typically colored peers and seven albino alligators were stolen from a zoo in Brazil, according to The IndependentHorrifically, some poachers have even attacked human children with albinism for body parts they can sell to witch doctors, writes Andrew Malone for The Daily Mail

Omo is only the second white giraffe spotted in Tarangire over the last 20 years, Lee tells Sam Wood of Philly.com. If she can survive to maturity, at four years of age, there is a chance that she would pass her unique coloring on to her offspring.

UPDATE: Though a local lodge guide granted the giraffe the moniker Omo, after a soap brand, the folks at WonName.com are now auctioning off the chance to rename the gorgeous giraffe. The funds raised will go to a non-profit to support animal conservation in Tanzania. The winner will get a list of seven non-profit options to choose from. Just visit the website to enter your bid, give the little giraffe a name and help protect her future. Bids must be sent by 11:59 PM CST on February 10.

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