During my many trips to Muchison Falls National Park in northwestern Uganda, I’ve enjoyed watching the giraffes. These gentle herbivores are gangling when they walk and have an awkward stance when they drink. Yet they are wonderfully regal.
But all is not well with the giraffe population. According to Catherine Zuckerman (NG, Apr 2015):
With their striking coat patterns and towering height, giraffes are iconic African creatures–yet they haven’t been the subject of much scientific study. Now researchers who track the animals report a disturbing trend: Across the continent populations have dwindled from 140,000 to fewer than 80,000 over the past 15 years, according to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF).
Slow-moving and enormous, “giraffes offer an easy target and lots of meat” for poachers, particularly in the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), says GCF Executive Director Julian Fennessy. Herds also are diminished by habitat loss and by hunters who cater to the superstition among some tribes that eating giraffe brains wards off HIV. Still, says Fennessy, there is hope for the future. We wouldn’t be doing this work if we thought it was too late.”
When I took my granddaughter to Uganda 2 years ago (2013), giraffes were the animals that she most wanted to see. They are a hit because of their gentle nature, comical appearance, magical spots, big expressive ears, short horns, and long necks and eyelashes. Because of their dwindling numbers, a recent report by the International Union of the Conservation of Nature suggested that giraffes may need to be listed as a threatened species because in some areas–like DRC and West Africa–their populations are being decimated. They are already thought to be extinct in Angola, Mali, and Nigeria.
Some people enjoy hunting giraffes and are willing to pay as much as $15,000 for the “pleasure” of killing one. According to Fennessy this may not be all bad (although I personally find it disgusting); populations in countries where it is legal–South Africa, Namibia, and Zimbabwe–can cope with the killing. “In countries where [giraffes] are hunted legally, the populations are increasing, but across Africa the overall numbers are dropping alarmingly.”
Legal hunting can actually help local communities by bringing in money and providing meat. “Many guides, trackers, and skinners who assist the giraffe hunters are paid in meat from the kills,” states Fennessey.
After one proud hunter posted a photograph of her trophy dead giraffe and her on Facebook, she was roundly harassed and had was forced to remove the image. Since shooting a giraffe is a little like “shooting fish in a barrel,” it is hard for me to see any pleasure in the accomplishment.
Note: For more photographs of the animals in Murchison Falls NP click here.