Only about 400 individuals remain of the West African Giraffe, which is solely found in Niger. Photo by John Butler
As the first-ever annual World Giraffe Day on June 21 approaches, world’s tallest land mammal threatened by conflict with humans, habitat loss, war, and disease
The overall giraffe population in Africa has fallen by 40 percent in the past decade in a half and, at 80,000 individuals, is currently one-fifth the size of the African elephant population. This year conservationists are raising awareness about the plight of this African icon on the first-ever annual World Giraffe Day, June 21, when the world’s tallest land mammal with the longest neck is celebrated on the longest day of the year. World Giraffe Day offers a rare chance to spotlight the giraffe, which, alongside elephants, rhinos, and other African megafauna, is being threatened by a number of human activities, including poaching, disease, habitat loss, war, and conflict with humans over scarce resources.
“Giraffes are one of Africa’s most beloved animals and always seem to be a part of the traditional African backdrop,” says Dr. Philip Muruthi, African Wildlife Foundation’s (AWF’s) senior director of conservation science.
Though listed as “least concern” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, giraffe camelopardalis does include two subspecies, the West African giraffe and the Rothschild’s giraffe that are now categorized as endangered. The small population of West African giraffe, located in Niger, comprises an estimated 400 individuals, while the Rothschild’s giraffe, found only in Kenya and Uganda, numbers about 1,100.
“Because there is a lack of data about local populations as well as the continental giraffe population, it’s important for the scientific community to undertake giraffe research. This will give us a clearer picture of the situation on the ground and help focus resources and protection efforts,” explains Muruthi.
Over the past few years, AWF has worked with partners and local communities for the past few years in Niger to better understand and protect the West African giraffe.
“The West African giraffe lives only in Niger, mainly on community lands and farms. This coexistence with humans has led to reduced and degraded habitat for giraffe, as well as incidents of human–giraffe conflict,” says Theo Way Nana, a conservation management trainee for African Wildlife Foundation who is currently engaged in the organization’s giraffe and elephant conservation work in Niger, Burkina Faso, and Benin. To that end, AWF has supported periodic giraffe censuses, engaged local communities to mitigate human–giraffe conflict, and worked with residents to restore giraffe habitat.
World Giraffe Day was established by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF), the only charitable organization focused solely on conservation of the African giraffe. AWF consulted with GCF on its West African giraffe work in Niger, and GCF is currently compiling data on the status of all giraffe populations in Africa into a Giraffe Conservation Status Report, which will help guide their IUCN Red List assessment and conservation management into the future. The Giraffe Conservation Status Report is expected to be available in early 2015.
“Much attention has been focused on elephants and rhinos lately—as well it should. We cannot, however, forget about Africa’s giraffes, whose populations have plummeted in a very short period of time. If we are not careful, while we are working to save some of Africa’s megafauna, Africa could end up losing one of the most iconic African megafauna—the giraffe—altogether,” says Dr. Julian Fennessy, executive director and conservation scientist of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation.
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