Indlulamithi – above the trees for World Giraffe Day.
Today on the winter/summer solstice also know as the longest night in the Southern hemisphere or the longest day in the Northern hemisphere we celebrate a very special, unique, curious, long necked animal, the Giraffe.
So why is the 21st June World Giraffe day? This is a new annual event launched by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) to raise awareness of our iconic long-necked friends. Did you know that even though they are an iconic African species that very little research has been done on them, and because of this the tallest mammal of the African bush has been disappearing right under our noses? According to the ICUN it is now thought that there are less than 69000 mature Giraffes left across the African Continent. This might sound like a healthy population number however; when you consider that over the last three decades Giraffe numbers have decreased by around 30-40%, a staggering amount, this population estimate is beginning to not look as good as it first you first thought.
The reasons why their numbers are declining is a familiar story. War, civil unrest, explosions in the human population, deforestation, habitat destruction, habitat fragmentation, disease and poaching are all contributing to their decline.
The Giraffe should have one advantage over other animals, because of its height they can reach food that other animals can’t which means that they don’t compete with other wild or domestic animals for food. However; in countries like Niger, where people are cutting down trees for fire wood, to grow crops and to sell, the Giraffes started to raid peoples crops, which in turn meant that the animals were being viewed as pests.
Currently the ICUN acknowledges the giraffe as one species with nine different subspecies. The Giraffe as a species are listed as vulnerable to extinction and if you break it down into the nine subspecies you will see that some of these subspecies are in danger of disappearing completely – the Nubian and Kordofan subspecies are critically endangered and the Reticulated subspecies is classified as endangered. The giraffes that live in Eastern, Western and Central Africa with most of them living in scattered, fragmented populations are the ones that are under the greatest threat whereas the lucky subspecies that live in Southern Africa have more stable population figures, although they are also not immune to population decline.
In recent years there has been some hope. The West Africa subspecies population declined so drastically that by the mid-nineties there were only 49 left. They used to have an extensive range, but they disappeared everywhere except in a small ‘giraffe corridor’ in Niger. Due to people recognizing the importance of them a massive conservation effort began. The Niger government gave them protected status and money was spent on anti-poaching. Thousands of Acacia trees, their favorite food have been planted, which helped to stop the Giraffes raiding people’s valuable crops. Thanks to Giraffe conservation organizations like GCF working with local people awareness of the Giraffes plight has increased and people now see these Giraffes as a positive force as they provide them with and income and jobs. All this work has had positive results. Their population numbers have increased and according to the ICUN there are now approximately 425 mature individuals. This success has enabled 8 West African Giraffes to be translocated to the protected Gadabedji Biosphere Reserve, an area they haven’t roamed for 50 years. Although this might sound like a small number these Giraffe have helped to increase the Biosphere Reserves biodiversity and most importantly these precious animals are helping to establish a second colony of West African Giraffe.
Now there we are researching Giraffe we are learning some interesting things. Thanks to genetic testing our assumptions that there are nine subspecies has been shown to be wrong and many questions are being raised. It has shown that there are four distinct species of Giraffe that have not interbreed for millions of years. Some of these species of Giraffes also have subspecies.
Whilst this might seem like an academic argument, after all it doesn’t change the conservation status of these animals, it goes to show that there is still so much to learn about them. It is also hoped that with more research, by understating their genetic makeup and what makes each species of Giraffe unique that they will be able to come up with new conservation approaches that can save this amazing animal.
| Kordofan giraffe
||G. c. antiquorum
| Nubian giraffe
||G. c. camelopardalis
| West African giraffe
||G. c. peralta
| Angolan giraffe
||G. g. angolensis
| South African giraffe
||G. g. giraffa
When humans put their minds to it, we can change the world and when we work together with nature rather than just considering our needs, we can create a positive change.