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Dwindling giraffe numbers in Africa, but Namibia’s populations are thriving

Avatar of inke inke - 15. August 2017 - Environment

A group of giraffe at the edge of Etosha Pan. In Etosha National Park giraffe are found on the vast plains scattered with acacias as well as in the dense mopane forests.

Africa’s population of giraffe has decreased at a startling rate.  Scientists are sounding the alarm bell. What is more, the common belief – still upheld internationally – that there is only one species of giraffe with several subspecies was recently refuted with DNA research conducted by Julian Fennessy and Axel Janke. Their study, published last year, shows that there are four distinct species of giraffe plus several subspecies. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) now lists giraffe, as a single species, as vulnerable to extinction.

According to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF), Namibia’s giraffe population is healthy and increasing. The director of the foundation, Stephanie Fennessy, says that the total number is more than 12,000: some 6500 giraffe are privately owned, around 2000 are found in communal areas and another 3500 in national parks. The Angolan or southern giraffe (Giraffa giraffa angolensis) is the most common in Namibia, but also about 100 Cape or South African giraffe (Giraffa giraffa giraffa) are found in the Susuwe area of Bwabwata National Park in the northeast of the country. In Namibia giraffe are classified as specially protected game.  

It is not known how old giraffe can grow in the wild. Little research has been done so far, even though these tall animals can hardly be overlooked in the vast landscapes of Namibia and elsewhere on the continent. Namibia’s giraffe are found in the arid Kunene Region in the northwest, and they inhabit the plains as well as the densely vegetated areas of Etosha National Park. Smaller numbers occur in the forests of the Kavango and Zambezi regions. Giraffe are browsers. If too many of them are kept on fenced-in commercial farms they are likely to damage especially Shepherd trees (Boscia albitrunca) rather soon, but their favourite food are the leaves and flowers of acacias.    

The even-toed ungulates with the long neck – which only consists of seven cervical vertebrae, just as in any other mammal – have a distinctive pacing gait like camels, i.e. they move both legs on the same side of the body at the same time, not in diagonal pairs like most other quadrupeds. Giraffe have to splay their front legs in order to drink. Bulls splay and fold their front legs. Male giraffe grow up to six metres tall and weigh in at more than 1500 kilograms. Females reach an average height of 4.5 metres and a weight of some 800 kg.

When a giraffe is captured almost twice as much anaesthetic has to be administered than what is used for a rhino, says well-known vet Dr Hans-Otto Reuter. Giraffe are usually sedated from a helicopter. After that they are blindfolded as quickly as possible and the ears are plugged with cotton wool. Then they are immediately woken up with an antidote. With the help of ropes they are guided onto special trailers and taken to a truck or an enclosure where the blindfolds and cotton wool are removed. In general, only young animals are captured for resettlement.   

The numerous depictions of giraffe in rock paintings and engravings all over Namibia prove that the tallest mammals have already inhabited various parts of the country for several thousand years. 

Dirk Heinrich

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