Giraffe, a quintessential icon of the Africa wilderness which is quietly disappearing
Operations & Marketing Development
04 Aug 2020
Share article on
Conservation plays a key role in the survival of Africa's wildlife
Wildlife conservation is a key part of any African country’s DNA – the continent’s unique fauna and flora play a significant role in bringing millions of visitors to the continent every year and the preservation of the nature and wildlife is what keeps them coming back. Going on safari is addictive to say the least. Without these initiatives, there would be a lot less wildlife for visitors to enjoy with tourism being a cornerstone fundraiser of conservation projects in Africa through the generation of money through park fees and conservation levies.
As you can probably imagine, conservation is extremely high on the agenda with many African countries with remarkable success stories, initiatives and projects across the board. Namibia, however, stands somewhat ahead of many of its neighbours, with conservation forming part of the Constitution of the country, with Article 95 stating:
“The State shall actively promote and maintain the welfare of the people by adopting international policies aimed at the maintenance of ecosystems, essential ecological processes and biological diversity of Namibia, and the utilisation of living natural resources on a sustainable basis for the benefit of all Namibians, both present and future.”
What makes the conservation projects in Namibia so interesting is the diversity of wildlife they are pledged to protect. There is a long-established pattern of the well-known projects supporting mainly the “headline” species – rhino, elephant, lion and cheetah, and so on, which are all prominently featured on TV programmes and in magazine articles, championing their incredibly worthy causes.
Wildlife conservation is ingrained in Namibia's constitution
However, one of Namibia’s most intriguing projects is one which protects the desert-dwelling Angolan giraffe, found in the harsh deserts of the Hoanib Valley in the north-west of the country.
You may be surprised to learn that giraffe are endangered across Africa, a combination of habitat loss, fragmentation from human encroachment being some of the primary reasons why their numbers are in decline throughout Africa.
The Giraffe Conservation Foundationare a team dedicated to conducting research, raising conversational awareness and creating relocation and reintroduction programs to help return giraffe populations to more stable numbers.
Founded in 2009 by husband and wife team Julian and Stephanie Fennessey after the realisation that there was and still is a distinct lack of data and information about one of Africa’s most distinctive species, they decided to take matters in to their own hands.
Initially and still to this day, they have a team of researchers operate in remote Namibia desert wilderness of the Kaokoveld, not far from Hoanib Valley Camp. They have undertaken a long-term study of these magnificent creatures, trying to get a better understanding on their behaviour and distribution within the region as well as bolstering population numbers.
The project was initially started in Namibia and from their base in Windhoek, they now they operate in 15 countries throughout Africa with some of their biggest success stories being in Namibia, Kenya and Uganda.
Giraffe - at risk from quietly slipping to extinction
I was fortunate enough the catch up with Stephanie Fennessey, Co-Founder of Giraffe Conservation Fund, about their mission to save the giraffe and her love of these often-overlooked gentle giants of the African wilderness.
Q. What makes giraffe so special to you?
They’re a quintessential symbol of Africa and instantly recognisable. Their elegance combined with unique gangly bodies is sometimes unfathomable. They’re amazing characters.
Q. Why do you think giraffes are often overlooked as an endangered species?
Whilst fairly numerous in some southern African countries, they’re endangered in others. There’s minimal human/wildlife conflict, such as crop destruction and there’s no black-market demand for poaching them as with rhino and elephants so it is less in the news which could be why it is often overlooked.
Generally, people are surprised to hear that giraffe are in trouble; that for every four elephants, there’s one giraffe.
Q. What is the biggest challenge that your foundation faces?
The biggest challenge is convincing people, getting the information ‘out there’ because people don’t think of giraffe as being endangered. Giraffe are considered by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) to be one species but we have proven through proven scientific research, that there are four subspecies which are so genetically diverse that they are certainly qualify as a separate species in their own right. It’s a slow process but this is becoming more widely recognised.
Q. What are the main threats for giraffe?
Habitat loss and fragmentation through human encroachment from agriculture, development and population growth. They need large spaces to move. Illegal local poaching and hunting for meat occur in some areas which is also a problem.
Q. What projects are you currently involved with?
There’s so many. We currently work in 15 countries, soon to be 16. There’s no one solution to saving giraffes. Every country has its own problems. We trans-locate to reintroduce giraffe into areas where they have become extinct. One big success story is the increase in populations groups in Uganda, there were only two and now there are five. We helped put in place infrastructures for translocation of giraffe where there was no such thing before.
Q. How can tourism help with giraffe conservation and what can people do at home to raise awareness of the plight of the world's tallest mammal?
When on safari, people can upload photos to giraffespotter.org - which helps to determine giraffe ranges and where they occur. They can become ambassadors for giraffe as they are unforgettable once seen in real life, especially in the wild. Basically, spread the word of their plight with family, friends, whoever - simply raise awareness.
We started 'World Giraffe Day' - usually 21st June every year and started in 2016. People can get involved at home by spreading the news of word, helping to raise awareness of the plight of giraffe on this day by using the hashtag #standtallforgiraffe on their social media.
Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF). GCF is the only organisation in the world that concentrates solely on the conservation and management of giraffe in the wild throughout Africa. Together with their partners, GCF currently works in 15 African giraffe range states and on all four species of giraffe.
Seven cool giraffe facts
Giraffe can reach up to six meters in height - that's nearly the height of three people.
A giraffe's tongue can be as long as 50cm.
At full speed a giraffe can run at 60 km/h.
Every giraffe's pattern is unique - just like our fingerprints.
Giraffe have excellent eyesight and other animals use them to help spot predators such as lions
They've very sociable animals - a group of giraffe is known as a tower or a journey.
The have the same number of neck bones as humans - seven.
Next time you're on safari and if you're fortunate to see giraffe, just take a few moments to quietly appreciate these magnificent animals and if you're interested in finding out more about how you can help ensure their survival visit the Giraffe Conservation Foundation website.