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The giraffe's smile. (Image Credit: Pixabay)

The giraffe’s smile. (Image Credit: Pixabay)

This is an excerpt from an article on Giraffe Day 2015, featured in GCF’s latest Giraffid newsletter, written by Billy Dodson, Patron of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, Savanna Images.

The following two statements are irrefutable … (1) giraffe numbers are in deep decline, and (2) the primary reason for that decline is human pressure. The GCF is leading the way in defining the current state of affairs. Individual country profiles are in development for each nation with a giraffe population.

These profiles incorporate historical data, existing research results, anecdotal information and every other scrap of data that might help complete the puzzle. Armed with this data, the GCF will be better equipped to support the sustainment of current giraffe populations and expand habitat to accommodate what will hopefully, eventually be a numerically healthy population. The GCF is also engaged in a number of conservation projects throughout giraffe range states; study subjects include demographics, conservation management, ecology, genetics/taxonomy, compatibility and co-existence with human populations, environmental education and much more. The intent is to expand the aggregate knowledge of the challenges to the species, and, using that knowledge as a foundation, develop and execute a comprehensive strategy for reversal of the current negative trends.

Photo Credit: Billy Dodson / Savanna Images

Photo Credit: Billy Dodson / Savanna Images

Why the Fight Is Critical

There is a good deal of justified hand-wringing over the plight of elephants. I often see them referred to as “gentle giants.” But anyone who has ever crossed paths with a musth bull or edged a little too close to a mother elephant with calf underfoot would of necessity concede that elephants are not gentle all the time. Likewise the lion. There are many retribution killings against the great cats because of their raids on livestock in areas where human settlement overlaps traditional wildlife territories. And under the right circumstances, they can and will destroy human life. But giraffe very rarely invade crops or attack livestock. They are notoriously peaceful … not only would they never threaten humans in an aggressive way, they are not in the business of threatening any living thing.

Photo Credit: Billy Dodson / Savanna Images

Photo Credit: Billy Dodson / Savanna Images

Despite isolated instances of success in the war to preserve these animals, the decline of the giraffe is proceeding steadily. As with the elephants and lions, this is yet another example of how the mighty continue to fall. The higher profile species have a powerful network of NGO marketing and social media support … and the efforts to save them are well documented and widely publicized. But it’s rare to pick up a magazine or
newspaper and read an article about human-giraffe conflict, or to see any hard statistics on the numbers of giraffe remaining in a given African reserve.

In the late 1990s ABC news correspondent Lynn Sherr wrote an exquisite little book called “Tall Blondes”, a loving tribute to her favorite of all animals. In one passage, she notes that the giraffe’s “ability to accommodate modern civilization may be explained by their innate curiosity and friendliness. Giraffe just seem to like people, and with their peaceful nature, seem perfectly willing to let us share their planet while they explore what we’ve done to it.” Lynn’s assessment is accurate, but the giraffe’s tolerance of humanity may be its undoing. Direct, sustained contact with people works to the detriment of these animals 100% of the time. Giraffe may be willing to share their planet with us, but we’ve demonstrated no inclination to reciprocate.

In many respects, Africa represents the last vestige of wilderness on earth. While the wildlife of other continents has been destroyed or effectively imprisoned, pieces of Africa remain true bastions of nature – pristine, beautiful and primordial – as it was designed to be. Its sweeping landscapes comprehend the gamut, from deep rain forest to snow-capped peaks to arid desert. The breadth of Africa’s animal species is compelling testimony to life’s ability to adjust and thrive. But there is a limit to the ability of animals to adapt, and in this case, live peacefully in close proximity to humankind. And it is this conflict, more than any other, that has decimated all nine subspecies of giraffe over the past century.

Tracking an Angolan giraffe in Namibia. (Photo Credit: Mike Kock)

Tracking an Angolan giraffe in Namibia. (Photo Credit: Mike Kock)

Summary

I once read in a Stephen Jay Gould essay that 99.9 percent of all species that have ever lived are now extinct. In other words, the curtain will one day fall naturally on the giraffe, as it will for homo sapiens and every other form of life. The cycle must and will continue, as one species gives way to make room for another. But it is an anomaly, a crime against nature, for one species to bear complete responsibility for the unnecessary and unjustified eradication of another. This is particularly true in the case of the giraffe, which, despite its surpassing grace and elegant beauty, is defenseless against our exploding numbers and burgeoning settlements. It’s past time for the pendulum to swing the other way, and it’s up to us, the animal lovers and conservationists of the world, to make that happen.

Photo Credit: Billy Dodson / Savanna Images

Photo Credit: Billy Dodson / Savanna Images

And here’s the cool part. We can do it. The numbers as depicted above are discouraging, to be sure. But the movement to counter the losses is becoming a groundswell and its momentum has begun to mushroom. It is true that we have the collective power to destroy, but we also possess the intelligence and ingenuity to sustain these magnificent animals. At this point it is a simple matter of will. We must develop the determination and perseverance to ensure a viable future for the world’s most statuesque animals. It is therefore incumbent on us all to act immediately to broadcast the conservation message and save giraffe from further habitat loss and eventual extinction.

So as we celebrate these spectacularly patterned, highly threatened emblems of Africa on this auspicious day, we should take some comfort in knowing that there are capable people in emerging organizations like the GCF who are committed to the protection of the species. And let us dedicate our own efforts to the preservation and propagation of giraffe, and resolve to take whatever actions are necessary – collectively and individually – to preserve this most beautiful and implausible of animal species.

“The sight of a herd of giraffe walking leisurely across an open piece of ground, or feeding through a country of scattered trees and bush, is one which, once seen, must ever linger in the memory; for there is something about the appearance of some few of the largest animals still extant upon the earth which stirs the imagination as the sight of smaller but more beautiful animals can never do.” – Frederick Selous, 1908

Hear, Hear.

This is an excerpt from the latest issue of GCF’s newsletter (Giraffid, Volume 9, Issue 2), available for download here.

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