The giraffe now an endangered species

South Africans are used to seeing giraffe in parks and reserves, but the reality is this mega-fauna is under threat. Roelof Bezuidenhout reports.

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Africa’s giraffe numbers are plummeting and their distribution shrinking, according to Dr Julian Fennessy of the Namibia Nature Foundation and Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF).
Addressing the SA Wildlife Management Association’s recent symposium, Dr Fennessy said the problem is intensified by the limited research that has been done to assess the reality of the situation, let alone any long-term ecological research on a population, which limits our understanding of their life history. Poaching and human population growth, as well as the loss, fragmentation and degradation of their habitat, continue to impact on the giraffe’s distribution across the continent. With the exception of the Angolan, Cape and Thornicroft’s giraffe, all other subspecies are either decreasing and/or unstable.
But Dr Fennessy says the first stage development of a “crude” continental-wide Giraffe Database (GiD) has helped the collation and understanding of a true baseline for giraffe numbers and range.
“New information could help us find the best management support for populations and get government and private organisations involved in supporting the long-term conservation of Africa’s forgotten mega-fauna.”

The International Union for Conservation of Nature estimated that the total number of giraffes in Africa in 1999 exceeded 140 000 (of which 40% were in or around protected areas and private lands). This number was thought to be easy to maintain if they were adequately protected. Current GCF estimates have the population at under 80 000 individuals across all subspecies – a considerable drop in the last decade that shows the extent of the giraffe’s plight. E-mail Dr Julian Fennessy at [email protected].     |fw

The Rothschild’s giraffe has been declared endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.According to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, there are currently nine recognised giraffe subspecies and the Rothschild’s is the second most threatened, with under 670 individuals left in the wild. Historically ranging across western Kenya, Uganda, and southern Sudan, it has been almost totally exterminated from most of its former range and now survives in only a few small, isolated populations in Kenya and Uganda.In Kenya, all known wild populations of Rothschild’s giraffe have been eradicated by agricultural development. Remnant populations are confined to National Parks (NPs), private properties and other protected areas, keeping them physically isolated from one another, making it impossible for them to interbreed. Population growth is further hindered by the closed nature of these conservation areas, which have reached or exceeded carrying capacities.

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Important safety havens for giraffe in Africa include Waza NP and the adjacent hunting zones in Cameroon, Zakouma NP in Chad, southwest Niger, Murchison Falls NP in Uganda, the Mara/Serengeti ecosystem in Kenya/Tanzania, Laikipia in Kenya, South Luangwa NP in Zambia, and in southern Africa, Etosha NP in Namibia, Okavango Delta in Botswana, Hwange NP in Zimbabwe and Kruger NP in South Africa.