04 November 2021
GIRAFFES IN CRISIS
These graceful giants play a key ecological role yet have undergone a massive population decline. With your help, Born Free is determined to secure their future thrrough our Save Africa’s Giants appeal.
The giraffe is one of the most familiar animals there is: a gentle, beautiful giant loved by many of us from a young age. You might think this affords the giraffe some degree of safety from decline or persecution. But sadly, the giraffe has been struggling, and is at risk of sliding towards a silent extinction right before our eyes; the very image of herds of these extraordinary animals striding across vast dusky savannahs no longer reflects reality. Four of the nine subspecies of giraffe are declining in number and the overall population has reduced by 40% in the last 30 years.
Giraffes are herbivorous, feeding mostly on leaves, flowers, twigs and fruits, and will adapt their behaviour and ranging patterns in response to food availability and quality. They don’t ask for much, and yet they give plenty. Their browsing habits shape savannah ecosystems, keeping in check the browse that other animals cannot reach, promoting the growth of forage that is an important food supply for many other smaller browsers. This is not by accident – giraffes and their ecosystems have evolved together over millennia to be in perfect balance.
Yet we have stopped giraffes from meeting their simple needs. We have taken their habitats for settlements, stripped resources for agriculture, carved up the wilderness for infrastructure, incessantly, unthinkingly, always taking. Giraffes have been extirpated from at least seven countries across Africa. There has been almost a 6% decline in the range area available to all giraffe taxa combined. Worse, giraffe can be killed by poachers for their meat, skin or other body parts; the latter often for completely unfounded ‘medicinal’ purposes, or for unnecessary trinkets or macabre accessories. The real tragedy, however, is that giraffes are often not the target. They are collateral damage in a world of greed.
In the Meru Conservation Area (MCA), Kenya, the Born Free team has been keeping a keen eye on the resident reticulated giraffes. One of the nine recognised subspecies of giraffe, more than half of the world’s last remaining ~15,000 reticulated giraffe live in Kenya. Recent surveys estimate a population of 1443 reticulated giraffes living in MCA. However, this giraffe stronghold is under threat. Across the MCA, poachers lay wire snares, cruelly designed to grab, tighten and cut into whatever animal unknowingly steps into it, indiscriminating and lethal. It is a difficult image to muster: a slender, lolloping giraffe crumpled to the ground; her stride broken forever.
“Across the Meru Conservation Area, poachers lay wire snares, cruelly designed to grab, tighten and cut into whatever animal unknowingly steps into it, indiscriminating and lethal.”
Even in cases when the giraffe escapes from the snare, the injuries incurred can permanently maim and lead to difficulty in mobility, rendering them more prone to predation.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been excruciatingly tough on everyone, and for people living on the brink of poverty, the resulting economic stress has pushed them into further hardship. “We must not forget that bushmeat feeds hungry families that otherwise cannot afford to eat” explains Born Free’s Conservation Projects Officer Penny Banham.
In response to these two related problems in MCA, the Born Free team will be working closely with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and the local communities to reduce the suffering of giraffes and alleviate the hardship that families face. As part of our brand-new conservation programme ‘Saving Meru’s Giants’, a ‘Twiga Team’ is being formed of local men and women, who will be trained by expert KWS rangers on illegal activity patrols and snare removal. The Twiga Team will soon carry out an urgent sweep of Meru National Park, in a bid to immediately reduce the intensity of snaring and protect the park’s wildlife from harm. This will be followed up by regular patrolling throughout the year.
“To empower local communities to reduce the pressures exerted on threatened animals via bushmeat hunting”, says Penny, “this work will run simultaneously with substantive community awareness raising and engagement across Born Free’s Meru programmes to help people understand the impacts of snaring and to adapt to a landscape of coexistence”.
Together we want to bring back that gorgeous image of the giraffe, towering above the landscape, strolling peacefully about her day, unencumbered by obstacles, and most importantly free and safe.
Images © Tom Stables Photography