Zookeepers said that it's probably for the best that the spotless baby giraffe was born in captivity, since wild giraffes use their famous spots as camouflage.
When it comes to Earth’s animals, there are a few universally agreed-upon facts. For example, it can reasonably be said that zebras have stripes, and giraffes have spots.
So it came as a shock to zookeepers at Brights Zoo in Tennessee when one of their giraffes gave birth to a baby without any spots at all.
“From day one we’ve been in contact with zoo professionals all over the country,” Brights Zoo director, David Bright, told WJHL. “And especially the old timers, that have been around for a long time, ‘Hey, have you seen this? What’s your thoughts?’ And nobody’s seen it.”
Though spotless giraffes have been documented before, including one in Japan in the 1970s, Brights Zoo released a statement explaining that giraffe experts believe the newborn female giraffe is currently “the only solid-colored reticulated giraffe living anywhere on the planet.”
Normally, giraffes have spots from the moment they’re born. As The Guardian reports, these spots serve a dual purpose. Not only do they provide giraffes with camouflage from predators in the wild, but they also contain blood vessels that help giraffes regulate their temperature. Each giraffe has a unique set of spots likely inherited from their mothers.
“It’s better she’s born in captivity,” David Bright explained to WJHL. “In the wild, they use those spots for camouflage… By being solid colored, she may not be able to hide quite as well.”
Given the rarity of giraffes born without spots, zookeepers at Brights Zoo have been working to ensure that their newborn is in good health.
As WJHL reports, the zoo conducted bloodwork on the baby giraffe and compared it to another giraffe born two weeks prior. Brights Zoo founder Tony Bright explained that her numbers “compared identically” to the slightly older giraffe and that “each day she gets stronger.”
Indeed, the young baby giraffe seems to be “thriving” under her mother’s care. And zookeepers are happy to report that she’s acting normal for her age. For giraffe calves, this means eating rocks.
“She will get down and pick up two or three rocks,” Tony Bright explained to WJHL. “She spits them out.”
For now, the baby giraffe remains nameless. Zoo officials have launched a public vote to decide upon her name on Facebook, which will run until Sept. 4. The four Swahili names under consideration are Kipekee, meaning “unique,” Firali meaning “unusual or extraordinary,” Shakiri meaning “she is most beautiful,” and Jamella meaning “one of great beauty.”
“[The Bright family has] looked at hundreds and thousands of names, their meanings,” David Bright told WJHL. “Those four are the four the family are all really attached to. So if she’s named one of those four, we’re very happy.”
Though the spotless giraffe is sure to bring heightened attention to Brights Zoo, the zoo also hopes that she will raise awareness about the plight of wild giraffes. Reticulated giraffes, like the spotless newborn, are among the most endangered. The Giraffe Conservation Foundation reports that just 16,000 such giraffes remain in the wild, 50 percent fewer than 35 years ago.
“The international coverage of our patternless baby giraffe has created a much-needed spotlight on giraffe conservation,” Tony Bright explained. “Wild populations are silently slipping into extinction, with 40 percent of the wild giraffe population lost in just the last three decades.”
As such, the baby giraffe with no spots and no name may play an important role in giraffe conservation. As news stories spread about its birth, zoo keepers and other conservation officials hope that awareness about endangered giraffes in the wild will spread as well.
After reading about the spotless giraffe born in Tennessee, see how a rare white giraffe was caught on video. Or, learn about the discovery of Discokeryx xiezhi, a distant relative of modern-day giraffes with a shorter neck and hard skull, who offered researchers clues about why giraffes evolved to have long necks.