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Rare White Giraffe Sighted in Tanzania

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Halfway around the world, just outside the Tarangire National Park in Tanzania, there's an unusual animal running around, not exotic, per se. It's just that he's white, a white giraffe. Charles Foley is a researcher with the Wildlife Conservation Society. He photographed the giraffe earlier this year. The discovery confirmed for him stories he had heard long ago of this creature.

Mr. CHARLES FOLEY (Researcher, Wildlife Conservation Society): When I first arrived in Tarangire National Park, ooh, about 12 years ago now, there were reports of a white giraffe. And I'd always kept my eyes open for it and never found it. I searched for about a couple of years and then assumed that the animal had just moved off or it had died.

CHADWICK: You don't think that this is the animal that you heard about back in--What?--1993? This is probably a different animal.

Mr. FOLEY: Yes, I think it is a different one. I've seen it from the air. And when I came back from the flight--we'd taken some blurry photographs of the animal, and I compared them to some pictures that I found of the original white giraffe. The original was even whiter. This animal is predominantly white on the upper torso, white with black splotches, but still has some tawny color in its legs, so almost certainly a different individual.

CHADWICK: Charles, tell me how you spotted this animal. What were you doing?

Mr. FOLEY: I was with a team from Wildlife Conservation Society, and what we were doing was we were actually counting elephants in an area of thick bushland outside the national park. And we had been doing this for about two days, and we were flying backwards and forwards over this area. And we had actually just finished the survey when we flew over an open clearing, and there it was, a big, white giraffe.

CHADWICK: Wouldn't it be a problem for a giraffe to be white?

Mr. FOLEY: Yes, it is. It's a big problem. The thing about any white animal is that if you're a trace species, predators are going to be immediately attracted to you because they can see you very easily. And if you're a predator, it's the opposite; it's going to affect your hunting because the prey can actually see you. So it's--life is pretty rough as a white animal.

CHADWICK: I'm not any kind of an authority on giraffes--I only know them from picture books--but this looks to me in the picture to be a full-grown, adult giraffe.

Mr. FOLEY: It is. It is indeed. I think it's a full-grown male giraffe. It was in a group of--I think it was a total of five giraffes, some other females and a younger animal. And it's obviously survived at least a few years out there in what is really, for a giraffe, quite a dangerous environment. So despite the fact that it's so visible, it seems to be actually doing well for itself.

CHADWICK: Tell me about the area where this giraffe is. What kind of terrain is it, and are there a lot of people around there or hunters or lions or what?

Mr. FOLEY: It's a fairly arid area. It is village land. It belongs to the Maasai Postumasts(ph). And what characterizes this particular area is that it has very, very dense bush, almost impenetrable thicket. So the elephant population that lives there, they are quite happy because it's so difficult for anyone to actually get close to them. There's not much poaching out in that area, and so it will probably be fairly safe from humans.

CHADWICK: Will anything happen in this area because there's a white giraffe there? I mean, is there anything to be done about this white giraffe, other than take its picture and say, `Huh, that's kind of an oddity'?

Mr. FOLEY: Well, I think what this does is that it draws attention to the fact that many of the national parks in east Africa at least often depend upon spill-over areas outside the national parks, which are often owned by villages. And if you want to try and protect the entire ecosystem, then you do need to concentrate conservation efforts on village areas as well outside the national park.

CHADWICK: Charles Foley, a researcher with the Wildlife Conservation Society, in Tanzania's Tarangire National Park. Charles, thank you.

Mr. FOLEY: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.