Einstein Science Reporting for Kids
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8-Sep-2005

Contact: John Delaney
jdelaney@wcs.org
718-220-3275
Wildlife Conservation Society

Thar she blows! The white giraffe

WCS researcher finds white giraffe after 12-year search

What do an African researcher and the fictional character Captain Ahab have in common? Both were searching for a legendary white beast, and whereas Ahab searched for his white whale, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) researcher Charles Foley sought--and finally found--his white giraffe.

Foley first heard the tale of a white giraffe in 1993, when he began working in Tanzania's Tarangire National Park, where he conducts long-term research on the park's savanna elephant populations.

"Despite intensive searching, I never saw the giraffe," recalls Foley. "And by 1994, the sightings stopped coming in, so I assumed it had died, either at the hand of man or beast. I never stopped looking though."

Twelve years later, Foley was rewarded for his search. While conducting an aerial survey of the park's sub-population of elephants, a distant white reflection caught his eye. "I looked…blinked…looked again… and it was still there," said Foley.

Not content with a mere sighting, Foley told his pilot--fellow WCS researcher David Moyer--to make another pass over the spot, just over the trees. Traveling some 100 kilometers per hour, with his camera pointing out of the window, Foley captured an image of the white giraffe on film, ending a 12-year quest to find the apparition.

"The resulting photo reflects a slight juggling of the camera, yet the proof is there to see--a mostly white giraffe with small dark blotches on its body. Only the bottom half of its legs were the more traditional brown color," he added.

On a scientific note, Foley doubts that this white giraffe is the same one that others reported seeing in 1993, and is probably not a pure albino animal, but a leucistic animal, which means the animal is lighter than normal. Nevertheless, he feels his more idealistic motive for sighting the white giraffe has now been satisfied. And unlike Ahab, he lived to tell the tale.

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