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A brown spotless giraffe was born at a zoo in Tennessee — and it's likely the first one in 50 years

A photograph of the spotless baby giraffe.
The spotless baby giraffe is thought to be the only living one of its kind.Brights Zoo
  • A brown spotless giraffe, the first known case in over 50 years, was born at a Tennessee zoo.

  • An expert said other giraffes might be surprised at its spotlessness, but likely won't reject it.

  • The zookeepers believe this is the fourth known case of a brown spotless giraffe.

On July 31, a family-owned Tennessee zoo welcomed a rare surprise — an all-brown giraffe born entirely without spots, thought to be the only one alive in the world.

The female baby giraffe is the second born at Brights Zoo in Limestone this year, yet unlike its peers, is a solid brown color. Already standing at 6 feet tall, the zoo's vet team hasn't observed any health concerns related to the lack of pattern.

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"She is very inquisitive," David Bright, the zoo's director, told Insider. "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."

image of baby spotless giraffe
The spotless giraffe in Tennessee.Brights Zoo

Fred Bercovitch, a wildlife conservation biologist and professor who's been studying giraffes for over 20 years, told Insider that a brown spotless giraffe is extremely rare and "almost certainly due to a specific mutation."

He explained that there have been some known instances of white spotless giraffes — which have a condition called leucism — spotted in the wild, but those are also rare. Before this birth at Brights Zoo, he had never heard of another brown spotless giraffe.

Bright told Insider that the most recent known example of a brown spotless giraffe was born at a Tokyo zoo in 1972. Her name was Toshiko. And she had an older sibling, born several years prior, that was also brown and spotless, Bright said.

But Bright said he only knows of one other instance of a brown spotless giraffe, in Uganda. Stephanie Fennessy, executive director of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, said her organization has never seen such a giraffe in the wild, and they work in 20 African countries.

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

the brown giraffe and her mother in Tennessee
The spotless giraffe at the Brights Zoo.Brights Zoo

Not much research has been done on giraffes, Bercovitch said, and very little is known about their spot patterns. But we do know that every giraffe has a unique spot pattern, and that there is likely "some amount of heritability between mothers and calves to the spot pattern," Bercovitch said.

An expert said other giraffes might be surprised at its spotlessness, but likely won't reject it

Bercovitch said giraffes are highly visual creatures have a complex social system, and it's highly unlikely that the brown Tennessee giraffe will be ostracized from the community for her spotlessness.

"My guess is that they would do a double take," Bercovitch said. "But I don't see giraffes have this ability or culture to discriminate against one that happens to be a different color."

Bright said he hopes the unique giraffe will shine a light on conservation efforts that nonprofit organizations are making.

"If we can get people donating to things like Save Giraffes Now or the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, then we've truly helped this species," Bright said.

The Bright family researched "thousands" of names that best fit the giraffe's personality, and are asking the public to help them choose the winner.

The shortlist includes the Swahili names Kipekee, meaning "unique," and Firyali, which means "unusual" or "extraordinary"; the Arabic-originating name Jamella, which means "one of great beauty"; and Shakiri, a name meaning "she is most beautiful."

Read the original article on Insider