The quiet, mesmerizing beauty of giraffes makes them market gold to the African wildlife tourism industry. But the world’s largest mammals are under threat from multiple forces, poaching, disease and even climate change. Economy aside, conservationists are in a frenzy to hasten 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 ventures or have conflicts with people and that is why most conservationists rarely consider or consider them endangered.
But the recent grim picture painted by the latest statistics and surveys is startling. According to the latest research from the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, the Nubian and Kordofan subspecies of giraffes have recently been upgraded to critically endangered status by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (UCN). red List of endangered species with about 4,650 remaining.
Endangered giraffes have the potential to influence the big business of wildlife tourism, especially as the quiet and powerful animals are often the main draw, especially in destinations like Kenya. Indeed, nature tourism makes up 36.3 percent of the continent’s travel and tourism economy. It contributes $29.3 billion directly to the African economy and employs 3.6 million people, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council†
Northern Kenya is home to more than 95 percent of the African reticulated giraffe with 15,785 of the 15,985 reticulated giraffes found in the wild. Southern giraffe is the most common giraffe species in Africa, with approximately 49,867 giraffes, of which 29,675 are South African giraffes and 20,192 Angolan giraffes. In total, about 117,180 giraffes remain in the wild, and more than 50 percent of giraffes are found in East Africa.
Their decline is due to a number of threats, most notably habitat loss, land fragmentation, climate change, poaching, snares, civil unrest, and to some extent there is the potential threat of understudied giraffe diseases.
“The latest threat is the hunt for their bushmeat due to the loss of tourism jobs during the pandemic. The poachers kill a giraffe and debone it so that there are no traces that they just killed a giraffe. However, our scientists have a specialized system to perform a DNA analysis to determine that the flesh is from a giraffe. Once this has been established, we will arrest and convict the offenders and issue hefty penalties,” said Dr. Patrick Omondi, director of wildlife research for Kenya Wildlife Service†
The other biggest threat is land conversion for agriculture and urbanization, which has led to the shrinking of the Maasai giraffe’s once vast range in central and southern Kenya and northern Tanzania.
“Giraffes need an expansive space to stretch out with about 35 to 60 pounds of food, but ranchers, ranchers, are now turning these grazing areas into urban areas that are fenced off and this reduces the habitat availability for the giraffes. They are also building new ones.” power lines which are also a threat as giraffes die from electrocution, they can no longer move freely and this minimizes their numbers,” said Emmanuel Ngumbi, the conservation programs manager at the Giraffe Center†
Kenya has great opportunities to market giraffes and play a role in their conservation as it is the only country where three different species of giraffes occur naturally. Some institutions are already selling experiences around spending time with giraffes, such as the Giraffe Center, Giraffe Manor, Haller Park, and other sanctuaries and wildlife sanctuaries. In these very popular places giraffes are the main attraction.
For example, at the Giraffe Center in Nairobi, the income received from tourists curious about giraffes and learning about giraffes is used for the conservation and research of the Rothschild giraffe. In the 1970s, the Rothschild giraffes made the western side of Kenya their habitat, but were in conflict with the human population as they destroyed the crops. This resulted in their decline as most of the farmers killed them to save their food. By the time they were rescued and transferred to this sanctuary in 1979, there were about 130 members of the subspecies.
Some were used by the . transferred to Baringo and Soysambu Northern Rangelands Trust in partnership with the local community (Ruko Wildlife Conservancy) where they have attracted a large number of tourists to catch a glimpse of the giraffes on an island. Here, however, the rise of Lake Baringo due to climate change poses a threat to their livelihoods and to tourism.
“While on the island, they are dealing with food shortages and lack of adequate space due to the rising level of the lake. When the tourism industry was booming, giraffes helped many find work and bring peace between communities. It’s a bit of a challenge now with the low turnout of tourists and the distance from the mainland where the giraffes are,” noted Dixon Ole Matano, a naturalist and resident of Baringo, Kenya.
The Kenyan government has also sent some to the Rumac National Parka park in western Kenya, as they wanted to expand new tourist areas.
“The introduction of the rhinos to the park also resulted in the creation of a rhinoceros unit that monitors the rhinos 24 hours a day. This has been beneficial, it has contributed to the conservation of giraffes. The only danger here is the effect of a population expansion of giraffes in this 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 of the Giraffe Center.