See the Rare Spotless Giraffe Born at a Tennessee Zoo

The baby might be the only all-brown giraffe on the planet, as the last one on record was born in 1972

brown giraffe
The rare all-brown giraffe was born in July. Brights Zoo via Facebook

A rare patternless giraffe was born last month at a family-owned zoo in Tennessee—and experts say she may be the only completely brown giraffe alive on the planet, report Emily Hibbitts and Clarice Scheele for WJHL.

Though her appearance is unusual, the six-foot-tall calf appears healthy and is thriving under her mother’s care, Brights Zoo officials tell the publication. 

“She is very inquisitive,” David Bright, the zoo’s director, tells Insider’s Fern McErlane and Grace Eliza Goodwin. “She stays very tight with her mom, doesn’t wander off too far, but she’s very curious what’s going on around her. She has a very positive personality when it comes to giraffes.”

The calf is a reticulated giraffe (Giraffa reticulata), one of four giraffe species—until 2016, scientists recognized only one species of giraffe. The last known spotless reticulated giraffe was likely Toshiko, a calf born in 1972 in Tokyo, writes Caitlin O’Kane for CBS News. Only two others have ever been recorded—the older sibling of Toshiko and an individual in Uganda, per Insider.

“From day one, we’ve been in contact with zoo professionals all over the country,” Bright tells WJHL. “And especially the old timers, that have been around for a long time: ‘Hey, have you seen this? What’s your thoughts?’ And nobody’s seen it.”

Fred Bercovitch, a wildlife conservation biologist at Kyoto University and executive director of the nonprofit Save the Giraffes, tells Insider the animal’s color is likely due to a specific genetic mutation. Though many questions have yet to be answered about giraffes and their spots, a calf’s pattern is probably at least partly inherited from its mother, he tells the publication. 

“What the birth does show is, in some ways, how little we know about animals,” Bercovitch says to Insider. “There are exceptions to almost every rule in biology.”

Reticulated giraffes use their spotted coats to help with camouflage in the East African savannahs where they live. Each individual’s coloration pattern is unique, like a human fingerprint.

But all-brown giraffes aren’t the only differently colored individuals that have earned special attention—in recent years, three all-white giraffes with a genetic condition called leucism were recorded in the wild, but two were killed by poachers in 2020. Later that year, the last remaining white giraffe was fitted with a GPS tracker that alerts rangers of its location every hour.

The new calf’s birth has cast a “much-needed spotlight” on giraffe conservation, as the zoo’s founder, Tony Bright, tells CNN’s Scottie Andrew. Only about 16,000 reticulated giraffes remain in the wild, a decline of more than 50 percent from 35 years ago, per the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. Habitat loss, fragmentation and hunting have all contributed to this decline. And as humans expand agriculture and developed areas, they cut down acacia trees, which are the animals’ preferred food source.

Now, the reticulated giraffe is classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Brights Zoo doesn’t usually publicize newborn animals, as David Bright tells Rebecca Reynolds of the Associated Press. “But with this being such a unique situation, we knew that it would bring a lot of attention to giraffes,” and their plight, he tells the publication.

The team at the zoo is turning to the public for help choosing between four names for the baby giraffe: Kipekee (unique); Firyali (unusual or extraordinary); Shakiri (she is most beautiful) and Jamella (one of great beauty). Voting ends on September 4, when the zoo will announce the winner.

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