Always There? Don’t Bank On It


I had no idea until this week when the BBC aired Giraffes: Africa’s Gentle Giants  in their Natural World series. But in the twenty years since this photograph was taken in the Maasai Mara the continent’s giraffe population has fallen by 40 %. That’s roughly 36,000 fewer wild giraffes on the planet, out of a total remaining population of 90,000.

I’ll say that again: there are only 90,000 giraffes left in all Africa.  Some populations comprise less than 400 individuals. Seven countries have lost their populations altogether.

In his voice-over, David Attenborough calls it a ‘silent extinction’; it has happened without anyone much noticing. We have been too busy worrying, and quite rightly so, about elephant numbers. But then Africa still has half a million elephants, albeit a fraction of those slaughtered for piano keys, billiard balls, and objets d’art.

One man who has been noticing the giraffe depletion is Australian scientist Dr. Julian Fennessy. From their home in Namibia, he and his wife have been studying the resident Angolan giraffes for twenty years, learning things about giraffes that no one else has bothered so far to discover. It seems that we all have thought that giraffes will always be there. If Fennessy has his way, they will be. But it’s a big call.

In many regions of Africa they have been poached for meat, or their habitats destroyed. There appears to be a further problem. It has long been known that there are several ‘races’ of giraffe across Africa – Maasai, Rothschild, Reticulated amongst others. Now Fennessy is coming to the conclusion that some of these regional variants are actually separate species. He is carrying out genetic sampling across the continent in order to find out. If his theory proves correct, then this knowledge will be crucial when it comes to maintaining viable breeding populations.

To fund operations, he and his wife run the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, the only conservation charity devoted exclusively to giraffes.  The BBC film also documents the Fennessy family’s part in the extraordinary effort by the Uganda wildlife authority to translocate 20 giraffe across the Nile in order to establish a new population outside an area earmarked for oil exploration, and one already predated on by poachers. For anyone in the UK, the programme is still on BBC iPlayer.

And why should we worry about loss of giraffes. Well, like elephants, they are the natural world’s gardeners. They help to pollinate trees, so ensuring fruits and seeds for a range of other wildlife. They also spread ready-to-grow seeds in their dung, so propagating tree cover which benefits the planet. And utility aside, just the thought of them makes people happy. Perhaps happy enough to help to support the Giraffe Conservation Foundation? Follow the link to see the kind of work they do.


Post inspired by Paula’s theme at Black & White Sunday: Always there

copyright 2016 Tish Farrell