Omo the giraffe, a resident at the Wild Nature Institute (WNI) in Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park has reached 15 months of age and is drawing comparisons to David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust.
What makes Omo Ziggy Stardust?
I’m surely not the only one that has listened to more David Bowie than I would normally in a given year recently. Still reeling would be a bit of an overstatement as 69-year-old rock stars that lived through the 60s and 70s dying at 69 isn’t that much of stretch, but the fact that I can’t stop playing Bowie tributes means I took that recent death reasonably hard. Today, things brightened a bit when I became aware of a Tanzanian giraffe that looks quite a bit like Bowie’s alter-ego Ziggy Stardust.
Unlike the loss of David Bowie, Omo, named after a popular laundry detergent, is thriving. At 15 months, the rare white giraffe has already survived longer than half of the world’s giraffes, which rarely see their first birthday owing to the ease by which lions and hyenas are able to hunt them down.
Omo, who suffers from leucism, is drawing comparisons to Sir Bowie (well deserved honorary title I’ve assigned) and Ziggy Stardust due to the fact that her condition keeps many of her skin cells from producing pigmentation. The red mane doesn’t hurt when coupled with her white color.
“We are thrilled that she is still alive and well,” the Wild Nature Institute (WNI) wrote on their blog last week, after first posting pictures of Omo in April 2015.
Many have incorrectly labeled her an albino giraffe due to her appearance. Albinos don’t produce melanin while leucism leaves animals unable to produce considerably more than one pigment. And while albinos’ eyes are generally red, leucistic animals keep their normal, genetically assigned color.
Giraffe poaching on the rise
There is little doubt that had Omo born outside of the Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park where over 3,000 giraffes live largely protected from poachers, that she would have fallen victim given her unusual coloring.
Giraffes’ strong hide means that they are used in a number of crafts indigenous to the area. According to the Rothschild’s Giraffe Project, while giraffes run quite quickly, they don’t start quickly and their long legs are easy to trap. Additionally, given their size they are an excellent source of “bushmeat.”
Not helping is the fact that for years rumors in Tanzania suggested that the giraffes’ bone marrow could cure HIV/AIDS. While those rumors started over 10 years ago they still exist in parts. Working for the giraffe in Tanzania is the fact that like the Ivory Coast’s elephant they are national symbols and protected by legislation.