A white giraffe has taken the Internet by storm, as a picture featuring the unusually colored animal quickly turned viral.
The photograph was taken last week at Tarangire National Park in Tanzania, but locals have actually been keeping track of the pale mammal’s whereabouts ever since January 2015, soon after the giraffe’s birth.
That was possible because wildlife experts closely monitor giraffe populations in the area, shooting photos of each individual every 2 months and using highly advanced software that recognizes a particular specimen by its spot patterns.
This painstaking work covers a surface of more than 1,500 square miles and allows scientists to track over 2,100 giraffes, being quickly alerted about any deaths, births, or other noteworthy happenings.
Soon after the white giraffe was spotted during one such periodic survey, a park worker decided to call it “Omo”, the nickname referencing one of the most popular laundry detergent brands in the region.
However, as explained by Derek Lee, quantitative ecologist and co-founder of the Wild Nature Institute, it’s likely that this moniker will eventually be changed, if someone comes up with an even better suggestion.
While it might be tempting to describe the female giraffe as albino, in fact Omo is leucistic. This means that due to a genetic mutation, the vast majority of the young animal’s skin cells are unable to release melanin, which is responsible for normal pigmentation.
If Omo were to be albino, then all of its skin cells (scientifically known as melanocytes) would have this characteristic, including the ones located in the eye’s middle layer.
As a result, the giraffe would also appear to have red eyes, due to the fact that blood cells from the retina would be easily distinguishable through the pigment-free iris.
White giraffes are obviously a rare occurrence, researchers from Tarangire National Park having recently declared that Omo is the second animal of this kind that they have identified in the last 2 decades, although the local giraffe population surpasses 3,000 individuals.
Due to its incredibly rare coloring, Omo is particularly exposed to bushmeat poaching, which happens when wild animals are targeted by illegal hunters, who harvest their meat and sell it to the highest bidder.
However, since giraffes are Tanzania’s national animals and this particular specimen was born in a wildlife sanctuary, where conservation measures are more actively enforced, it is hoped that Omo will have a normal life expectancy, without falling victim to trophy-hunters.
Experts have also been relieved to notice that Omo isn’t having any trouble bonding with other members of its herd. The other animals which have normal-colored coats don’t treat it any differently, and the white giraffe is often seen as part of large gatherings, without appearing to be ostracized or rejected in any way by its peers.
Given that now Omo is more than a year old, and has successfully survived what was considered to be the most vulnerable period of its life, wildlife experts are now expecting it to continue to thrive, especially since now it is large and tall enough in order to deter potential predators, such as leopards, lions and hyenas.
At the age of 4, Omo will reach maturity, and will be able to reproduce and pass its genes, but unless park execs opt for selective breeding, it’s unlikely that the white giraffe’s offspring will share her incredibly rare coloration (or lack thereof).
Image Source: Daily Mail