The calm and mesmerizing beauty of giraffes makes them commercial gold for the wildlife tourism industry in Africa. But the world’s largest mammals are threatened by multiple forces, poachers, disease and even climate change. Economics aside, conservationists are in a mad rush to accelerate their decline.
When you think of giraffes, you think of their beautiful patterns, long necks, and mesmerizing eyes.
They are also rarely involved in dramatic undertakings or have conflicts with human beings and that is why most conservationists rarely speak or think of them as endangered.
But the recent grim picture painted by the latest statistics and research is surprising. For example, according to the latest research from the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, the Nubian and Kordofan subspecies of giraffe were recently listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (UCN). red list of endangered species with approximately 4,650 remaining.
Giraffes at risk have the potential to impact major wildlife tourism businesses, especially as calm, powerful animals are often the biggest draw, especially in destinations like Kenya. Indeed, wildlife tourism accounts for 36.3% of the continent’s travel and tourism economy. It directly contributes $29.3 billion to the African economy and employs 3.6 million people, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.
Northern Kenya is home to over 95% of Africa’s reticulated giraffes with 15,785 out of 15,985 reticulated giraffes found in the wild. The southern giraffe is the most abundant giraffe species in Africa, with an estimated 49,867 giraffes, of which 29,675 are South African giraffes and 20,192 are Angolan giraffes. In total, there are about 117,180 giraffes left in the wild, and more than 50% of giraffes are found in East Africa.
Their decline is the result of a number of threats, including habitat loss, land fragmentation, climate change, poaching, trapping, civil unrest, and to some extent the potential threat of disease. understudied of the giraffe.
“The latest threat is the hunt for their bushmeat due to the loss of tourism jobs during the pandemic. Poachers kill a giraffe and debone it so that there is no trace that they have just killed a giraffe. However, our scientists have a specialized DNA analysis system to establish that the meat is that of a giraffe. Once this is established, we arrest and convict the offenders and impose heavy sentences,” said Dr. Patrick Omondi, director of wildlife research for Kenya Wildlife Service.
The next biggest threat is land conversion for agriculture and urbanization, which has caused the once-extensive range of the Maasai giraffe to shrink in central and southern Kenya and northern Tanzania.
“Giraffes need a large area to roam with around 35 to 60 kilos of food, but pastoralists, herders are now turning these rangelands into fenced urban areas, which reduces the availability of habitat for giraffes. They are also building new power lines which also poses a threat as giraffes die from electrocution, they can no longer move freely and this minimizes their numbers,” said Emmanuel Ngumbi, Head of Conservation Programs at the Giraffe Center.
Kenya actually has great opportunities to market giraffes and play a role in their conservation as it is the only country that has three different types of naturally occurring giraffes. Some institutions are already marketing experiences around time spent with giraffes, such as the Giraffe Centre, Giraffe Manor, Haller Park and other sanctuaries and reserves. In these popular places, giraffes are the main attraction.
For example, at the Giraffe Center in Nairobi, revenue received from tourists curious to observe and learn more about giraffes is used for the conservation and research of the Rothschild giraffe. Around the 1970s, the Rothschild giraffes made the western part of Kenya their habitat but were in conflict with the human population as they destroyed crops. This led to their decline as most farmers killed them to preserve their food. By the time they were rescued in 1979 and transferred to this sanctuary, there were approximately 130 members of the subspecies.
Some were transferred to Baringo and Soysambu by the Northern Rangeland Trust in partnership with the local community (Ruko Wildlife Conservancy) where they attracted a large number of tourists to spot the giraffes in an island. However, here the rise of Lake Baringo due to climate change poses a threat to their existence and to tourism.
“While they are on the island, they face a shortage of food and a lack of space due to the rising level of the lake. When tourist activity was good, the giraffes helped many people to find jobs and bring peace between communities. It’s a bit of a challenge now with low tourist numbers and the distance from the mainland where the giraffes are,” noted Dixon Ole Matano, naturalist and resident of Baringo in Kenya.
The Kenyan government has also transferred some to the Ruma National Parka park in western Kenya, as they wanted to develop new tourist areas.
“The introduction of rhinos to the park has also resulted in the establishment of a rhino unit which provides round-the-clock monitoring of rhinos. This has been beneficial as it has helped in the conservation of giraffes. The only danger here is the effect of an expanding giraffe population in that area. When giraffes are stressed, they bark trees and if they kill trees that are their food, they will die and endanger their future survival,” said Ngumbi from the Giraffe Center.