A white mother giraffe and her ghostly-looking calf have been found slaughtered by poachers in Kenya, according to wildlife officials.
Locals found the unusual giraffes’ bodies after several months without a sighting at the wildlife sanctuary the animals called home, according to a news release from the Hirola Conservation Program on Tuesday.
“We mourn the loss of Kenya’s rare white giraffes,” the conservation group tweeted. “This is a dark day not only to the conservation community but also to all the Kenyans who took pride in the existence of this unique species.”
The unusually white pair have been celebrated in Kenya since they were first discovered in 2017, sparking news coverage around the world. A third white giraffe was reportedly born in 2019.
“This is a very sad day for the community of Ijara and Kenya as a whole,” said Mohammed Ahmednoor, the manager of Ishaqbini Hirola, in a statement. “We are the only community in the world who are custodians of the white giraffe.”
The Kenyan Wildlife Service says it is investigating the killings, which happened in the Ishaqbini Conservancy natural reserve area.
“Our teams on the ground have seen bones believed to be those of the two giraffes,” the service wrote on Twitter. “The bones are estimated to be four months old.”
The Kenyan Wildlife Service says it went looking for the giraffes after the park raised concerns about them.
The giraffes were not true albinos, according to the Ishaqbini Conservancy. They had a condition known as leucism, which causes weak pigmentation levels in the body but not in the eyes. The condition does not affect their health, and it’s possible that a calf’s pigmentation can change as it ages.
The adult giraffe was the only known female of her colour, according to the park. Colouring aside, she was one of only about 11,000 reticulated giraffes in the world. The endangered species has been in sharp decline in recent decades.
Only one white reticulated giraffe — a young bull — is thought to be alive today.