The African savannah elephant and the giraffe are two of the most iconic and revered megafauna in the world. However, both species face grave threats. The reticulated giraffe is one of the most endangered giraffe species, there are fewer than 16,000 left in the wild. This is just a fraction of the 36,000-47,750 estimated to have existed in the mid-1980s – the population has declined by more than 50% in the past three decades. Reticulated giraffe are now only found in north and northeast Kenya, as well as small populations in southern Somalia and southern Ethiopia.
African savannah elephants, newly recognised as a separate species from African forest elephants and now listed as Endangered by the IUCN, have suffered a precipitous decline of at least 60% over the past 50 years. A 2016 report estimated only 415,000 elephants left in Africa, with 20,000-40,000 killed for the illegal ivory trade every single year, and habitats shrinking at a terrifying rate. There are important populations of both these species in Meru Conservation Area.
The Meru Conservation Area is where Born Free’s story began and Elsa the lioness was successfully returned back to the wild. We’ve been monitoring and protecting lions in the national park for several years and are now expanding our effort to address problems facing of reticulated giraffe and the African savannah elephant for a more holistic conservation effort in the landscape.
In the Meru Conservation Area, communities struggle to coexist with elephants because they raid their crops; elephants subsequently suffer when farmers retaliate with force. Reticulated giraffes face an uncertain future as the threats of poaching, habitat loss, infrastructure development and conflict ever increase in the region.
Born Free is rising up to address the challenges faced by these large herbivores by launching Saving Meru’s Giants, which will be implemented by a small team of Kenyan Nationals, with the ultimate aim of creating an environment for coexistence between people and large herbivores. We will monitor the giraffe and elephant populations to better understand the threats they face and their behaviour, we will address conflict via community-led and nature-based solutions, we will tackle illegal wildlife activity with dedicated community teams, and we will increase local people’s awareness and capacity through workshops and school programmes.
Penny Banham, Born Free’s Conservation Projects Officer, said: “The world has witnessed the devastating decline elephant and giraffes. Without further conservation efforts, the fate of these critically important mega-herbivores looks bleak. Our new initiative, Saving Meru’s Giants, will be vital in reducing threats in the Meru Conservation Area and making sure that elephants and giraffes are here for generations to come.” Dr Nikki Tagg, Born Free’s Head of Conservation, added: “By considering the threats facing elephants and giraffes, as well as lions, in Meru Conservation Area, we can more fully engage with local communities and help them to tackle the huge problems they face that prevent them from coexisting with large mammals, that can be destructive or even dangerous. We are very excited about the impact that this level of holistic investment can lead to.”
We look forward to bringing you along on this journey with us!
Images © George Logan, Filip Fortuna