Scientists have been monitoring the case of an incredibly rare giraffe that is turning white as he ages. Although there have been quite a few reports about albino giraffes that are born without pigment, this is the first time scientists have actually witnessed a change in coloration.
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It all started way back in 2009 when biologist Zoe Muller from the University of Bristol in the UK began observing the male giraffe in the Soysambu Conservancy of Kenya. She took nearly 500 pictures of him and noticed that he was changing slightly.
"I first started to see a few white spots appear on the animal’s coat back in November 2009, and was puzzled as I had never seen this before," she told Karl Gruber from New Scientist.
But the patches didn't stop appearing. Between 2009 and 2016, the giraffe when from mostly normal up top to most of his entire top half, including his neck, going white.
It is thought that he might have a rare skin disease called vitiligo, which causes people to slowly lose pigment - it was what Michael Jackson had.
"There have been a few reports of white giraffes before in the wild, but those animals are either albino or leucistic, which means they are born white and have been that way for their entire life," Muller told New Scientist. "There has never been a documented case of a giraffe turning white over time."
Unfortunately, if a giraffe were to have this in the wild, it wouldn't be a good thing.
"The biological functions of animal coat patterns include protecting the skin from exposure to sunlight, protection from predators by camouflage, individual recognition and sexual recognition within a species," Muller wrote in a paper about the giraffe.
Muller believes that the vitiligo might have been caused by a skin infection, and since it is an endangered species, it would be a problem if the infection spreads.
"I noticed the giraffe would engage in excessive scratching. He would position himself in a thick bush, and rock backwards and forwards for thirty minutes or so, scratching his head and neck area," she told New Scientist.
"With fewer than 1,100 Rothschild’s giraffes left in the wild, if there was some kind of infection, or disease at work in this population, it could have a serious impact upon the survival of the subspecies in the wild."
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This is all speculation at this point, and the giraffe seems to be fine.