Necks on the line
Necks on the line
BY KYLIE McQUALTER
Whether seen splashing their way through the flooded plains of the Okavango Delta, sauntering through the long yellow grass with a zebra herd in tow in Hwange National Park, amongst large herds of elephant in Bwabwata National Park, or as a glimpse as they disappear into the depths of the Kalahari woodland in Sioma Ngwezi National Park, the giraffe is a must-see for any African safari.
Perhaps it’s their sheer size and incredibly long necks, the skilful way their dexterous, long blue tongues and upper lips delicately pluck acacia leaves from between formidable thorns, the awkward manner in which they splay their forelegs to drink, or the way in which they peer at you with neck inclined forward and big brown eyes gazing curiously from beneath long, dark lashes.
The giraffe never fails to amaze and captivate, and if you’ve ever been lucky enough to witness a brutal necking battle between the largest of males, the resonating thud as ossicones (horns) connect with muscle, heard over hundreds of metres, your appreciation of these seemingly gentle giants can only have been taken to new heights.
Despite the giraffe rarely being missed on any safari where they occur, this charismatic African icon has undergone a severe population decline over the past decade and a half with the population dropping by over 40 percent. With fewer than 80,000 giraffe remaining continent-wide (at most, one-fifth the size of the African elephant population), alarm bells should be ringing. Poaching, disease, mounting pressure on giraffe habitats through habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation – a consequence of the unavoidable growth and expansion of the human population and associated pastoralism and clearing of land for agriculture, as well as war and civil unrest, are the major threats which have, and still are confronting giraffe populations across Africa.
The giraffe, Giraffa camelopardalis (translated as ‘camel marked like a leopard’) currently has two recognised sub-species in the Zambezi catchment area. The Thornicroft’s giraffe, a geographically isolated population in Zambia’s South Luangwa Valley (although evidence from recent research carried out by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation and its partners suggests that these giraffe are genetically similar to the Masai giraffe found in Tanzania and southern Kenya), is estimated to have approximately 400 individuals, however the population appears stable and genetically viable.
The second sub-species, the Angolan giraffe, believed to range across Namibia, south-western Zambia, northern Botswana and probably western Zimbabwe are more numerous, with an estimated population of less than 20,000, but numbers are thought to be declining in all countries except Namibia.
Although the plight of giraffe may seem somewhat bleak, with increased awareness a new wave of giraffe research by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, Elephants Without Borders, other NGOs and researchers helping to define their taxonomy, establish their conservation status, and boost our understanding of their baseline ecology and behaviour, from which information will be compiled to establish the first continent-wide Giraffe Conservation Management Strategy document, we are surely taking a step in the right direction to ensuring a future for giraffes in Africa.
For further, up-to-date information about the distribution, statistics and conservation status of the nine giraffe sub-species and their threats, download your free PDF copy of Africa’s Giraffe – A Conservation Guide, at http://www.giraffeconservation.org/booklets.php Also, mark your calendars for World Giraffe Day on 21 June 2014!
More from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (December 2013)