Imagine the scene in a few decades time. A child is watching the popular animated film ‘Madagascar,’ which is now a classic, and laughing at Melman the Giraffe’s antics and then asks to see a Giraffe in real life.
How heartbreaking would it be to explain to a child that Giraffes no longer exist and have become extinct? How would we explain that our past generations were fortunate to see them in their natural habitat, roaming happily, munching on leaves from trees and bringing joy to all that were lucky to see all the different species of Giraffes but now they exist only in photographs, or museums, because not enough was done to save them as a species?
If we don’t act now, this will be the reality, as we are slowly witnessing the extinction of our gentle giants, who according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), have dwindled by 40%, which is a staggering amount. Approximately 30 years ago there were around 150,000 Giraffes roaming our planet, whereas now there are only about 90,000.
Growing up in Kenya, I was used to seeing different species of Giraffes, in ample quantities at the various game reserves around the country, and over the years, I have noticed how the Giraffe populations have decreased compared to when I was a child whenever I go on safari now.
The decline of Giraffes worldwide is attributed to several reasons, such as habitat loss, ecological changes, poaching and trophy hunting. Giraffe marrow is sought after for illegal trade as it is rumoured to cure AIDS, their bones are used for carvings, the skin for furnishings and their tails are offered as a dowry in the Congo. According to the American Wildlife Foundation, even the long black hairs that you find at the end of a Giraffe’s tail are sought to make good-luck bracelets, fly whisks and thread.
In Nairobi, Kenya, there is a Giraffe Centre, which is a sanctuary established back in 1979 when Jock Leslie-Melville, who was the Kenyan grandson of a Scottish earl, and his wife Betty realised the sad plight of the Rothschild Giraffe, which continues to be the rarest species of Giraffe today.
At the time the numbers of Rothschild’s giraffes had severely plummeted to a mere 120 creatures and they were really close to extinction. The couple started by bringing 2 young giraffes to their property, which is now where the Giraffe Centre and Giraffe Manor can be found today in an area called Langata. Now they have several Rothschild Giraffes at the centre, as well as dotted around other parts of Kenya. They still remain the rarest species of Giraffes even today.
The Rothschild’s giraffes have a distinct look to other giraffes and can be identified by their white “socks”, whilst on other species, the patterning runs below the knee. In Kenya there are 3 types of giraffes – the Rothschild, the Maasai Giraffe and the Reticulated Giraffe.
Anyone visiting Kenya is able to visit the Giraffe Centre to see these Giraffes up close, and have the opportunity to feed them pellets, as well as have an educational talk about the Rothschild Giraffes, as well as Giraffes in general.
The world more recently witnessed the sad death of Sudan, the LAST male Northern White Rhino on our planet, who closed his eyes for the last time at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, while the world’s eyes were opened wide to the reality of how close extinction really is.
More must be done to ensure that other animals do not suffer this plight, and trophy hunting continues to be one of the biggest contributors to the decline in the Giraffe populations today. There need to be laws in place, either US or International, to help protect giraffes against this overexploitation for trade. At present, the US is one of the largest importers of trophies in the world, and this must be stopped.
Through education around the world, raising awareness of the issues, signing petitions to stop the illegal and legal hunting of these gentle giants, we can do our best to reverse this and help change the status of Giraffes from Vulnerable back to “Least Concern” so that our future generations will see our beloved Giraffes in their masses, roaming Planet Earth.