The giraffe is a ubiquitous feature of the African open plain and it is not generally thought of as endangered. Yet some species or subspecies – the taxonomy of giraffes has yet to be resolved – are exactly that, threatened and on the brink of extinction.
The West Africa giraffe Giraffa camelopardalis peralta was once widely distributed across many countries in West and Central Africa but since the start of the 20th century, it has experienced a dramatic decline, disappearing from much of its previous range. Human population growth in combination with shifting agriculture, pastoralism, and unsustainable fuel wood collection led to large-scale habitat degradation and fragmentation. Hunting, severe drought and civil conflict also contributed. By the mid-1990s its numbers had plummeted to an estimated 50 individuals persisting only in southwest Niger in unprotected areas, under high human pressure.
In the 1980s the government of Niger introduced measures to enforce a hunting ban. Since then, through a combination of enforcement and education, the population has consistently increased year on year and is now thought to number between 300 and 400 individuals. Despite this achievement, however, the West Africa giraffe still remains Africa’s rarest giraffe.
The Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF), supported by the Born Free Foundation, has developed the first ever Country Profile of giraffes in Niger. This will contribute to the re-assessment of the species for the IUCN Red List, where it is currently classified as Endangered. This technical document looks at their current as well as their historic conservation status, in terms of their abundance, distribution and threats. This marks an important step towards conserving the West African giraffe.
Other important developments include a review of the National Strategy and Action Plan for West African giraffes by GCF and other conservation stakeholders including the government of Niger in May 2015. This is in recognition of the fact that giraffe conservation efforts need to be organized within such a framework. For the workshop to review this plan, the Giraffe Conservation Guide and poster have been translated into French and will be distributed as a valuable educational tool for the key stakeholders. Based on the scientific recommendations of the GCF and the IUCN SSC Giraffe and Okapi Specialist Group, the action plan will guide future giraffe conservation and management decisions in Niger.
In the near future, GCF is keen to undertake a field assessment of giraffes in Niger in partnership with the government and other local and international stakeholders. This field assessment will be essential in determining the status of the population, since the last time it was surveyed between 2007 and 2010.
At that time, surveys demonstrated that giraffes were extending their range, as a result of an increase in the giraffe population. However, it was thought that individuals were dispersing out of their core areas and moving into potentially more vulnerable areas in Mali and Nigeria.
At the same time that numbers are increasing, giraffe habitat is increasingly being destroyed and human giraffe conflicts are on the rise. Understanding their status in the context of these threats will guide conservation effort and protecting giraffe habitat is recognized as critical to their future survival.
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