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World’s Only Known White Giraffe Now Has a GPS Tracker

The young bull used to be one of a trio of white giraffes, but the two others were found dead in March

The giraffe's white color comes from a genetic condition called leucism. (Courtesy of the Northern Rangelands Trust)
smithsonianmag.com

The Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy in eastern Kenya is home to rare and endangered animals like hirola antelopes, maneless plains zebras and reticulated giraffes—including one nameless male giraffe with unusual white fur. Now, the park has attached a GPS tracker to the white giraffe’s head that will alert rangers to its location every hour, reports the Associated Press.

The conservancy first became aware of an adult female white giraffe its protection in 2016, reports BBC News. The female and her first white-colored calf were spotted on camera in 2017, and last year, the mother giraffe gave birth to another white-furred baby. But this past March, Kenya Wildlife Service found the remains of two white giraffes—the adult female and the youngest calf—and concluded they were most likely killed by poachers, Brigit Katz reported for Smithsonian at the time.

Realizing that the remaining white giraffe bull was at high risk of being killed by poachers the Conservancy, the Kenya Wildlife Service, the Northern Rangelands Trust and Dallas-based conservation group Save Giraffes Now moved fast to protect him.

“Now ranger teams, with help from community members, can track the bull’s movements, and respond immediately if he’s heading toward known poaching areas or other dangers,” says Save Giraffes Now’s president David O’Connor in an emailed statement, George Dvorsky reports for Earther.

The giraffe’s white appearance is not caused by albinism, which involves a lack of melanin pigment. Instead, the coloration comes from a genetic condition called leucism, which is a partial loss of pigmentation that still leaves dark coloring in the animal’s eyes, tail hair and spots.

The IUCN Red List considers reticulated giraffes, like the white bull, as endangered, with only about 11,000 adults remaining in the wild. Over the last 30 years, the species has seen a 56 percent decline across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia populations. That's a more severe drop than all four giraffe species total, which together have seen about a 40 percent drop in population over the last 30 years. On top of poaching, giraffes also face threats from habitat loss, ecological changes and human conflict.

"Our focus is to save giraffes from extinction, in part by being nimble enough to take quick, impactful action when needed," says O’Connor in the statement, per People’s Eric Todisco. "That was necessary in this case, for sure.”

A team of conservationists at the Ishaqbini Conservancy spotted the white bull giraffe while tagging other animals, and moved quickly to put a GPS tracker on it as well. The GPS tag is attached to the white giraffe’s left horn-like ossicone, and the device is solar powered so it can send location data to park rangers every hour. If the giraffe wanders into dangerous areas, rangers will be able to gently redirect it to safer ground.

“We are thankful for the tremendous help from KWS, Save Giraffes Now and the Northern Rangelands Trust in furthering community efforts to safeguard wildlife species,” says Ahmed Noor, Manager Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy, in a statement. “The giraffe’s grazing range has been blessed with good rains in the recent past and the abundant vegetation bodes well for the future of the white male.”

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