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Written by: Andy Tutchings

Giraffe are everywhere – aren’t they? This is certainly the popular opinion and one which we hear all of the time, be it from those within the industry or from casual observers.

© Andy Tutchings
© Andy Tutchings

Indeed during a recent research expedition in the Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda we came across a herd numbering well over 100 individuals. That this represented over 10% of the entire wild population of the Rothschild’s giraffe was lost on many of the visitors to the park. And perhaps everyone can be forgiven for perceiving such an abundance, given that as an entire species they are officially classified as ‘Least Concern’ on the IUCN Red List – so what’s the problem?

This wide spread presumption of abundance is just one of the misconceptions that have lead one of Africa’s most iconic species to slip under the conservationists’ radar. Regrettably there has been a decline of some 40% across the continent in just the last 15 years, down to just 80 000 as an entire species, which includes a number of the nine sub-species numbering in their hundreds.

Geographically isolated from all other populations there are less than 1000 Thornicroft's giraffe surviving in Zamibia's South Luangwa Valley. © Julie Maher
Geographically isolated from all other populations there are less than 1000 Thornicroft’s giraffe surviving in Zamibia’s South Luangwa Valley. © Julie Maher

Of the nine recognised sub-species, three of them make up over 85% of the entire sum of the giraffe population.  Meaning that the remaining six sub-species are clinging on precariously, numbering approximately 10 000 individuals in total.  There are only some 300 West African giraffe living entirely isolated from other populations, just outside of Niger’s capital Niamey – and there are not even any kept in captivity. Of the likely 1100 Rothschild’s remaining the vast majority live in Uganda with a few small isolated pockets scattered throughout parts of Kenya.  A 2011 report demonstrated a colossal 65% fall in just 15 years of giraffe numbers in some areas of Botswana and how the populations are faring in countries ravaged by wars or civil unrest remains, at best, unclear.

One of only 300 individuals remaining in the world, and now formerly recognised as endangered in their own right, this male West African giraffe risks crossing a busy road near Niger's capital Niamey. © Andy Tutchings
One of only 300 individuals remaining in the world, and now formerly recognised as endangered in their own right, this male West African giraffe risks crossing a busy road near Niger’s capital Niamey. © Andy Tutchings

Faced with these figures but concerned that mis-information is resulting in complacency and a significant lack of investment, rectifying this situation was quickly recognised as being one of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation’s (GCF) main priorities. And so, to accompany our conservation initiatives across the continent we have begun an international re-education initiative; something of a ‘Giraffe PR Campaign’.

Relatively populous in zoos, East Africa's Reticulated giraffe populations have plummeted to less than 5000 individuals in the wild. © Billy Dodson
Relatively populous in zoos, East Africa’s Reticulated giraffe populations have plummeted to less than 5000 individuals in the wild. © Billy Dodson

The initiative began with the production of a 32 page Conservation Guide which was formally launched at the Giraffe Indaba 2, held in Nairobi in August 2013. The booklet is to be complimented by a series of educational posters and number 2 in the series, Africa’s Giraffe – Conservation Status and Distribution is now on the streets.

With informative, colourful graphics, and packed with lots of great images and an abundance of fascinating, myth-busting facts & figures, the series is suitable for a wide audience and readership, and as such will be playing a big part in the first ever World Giraffe Day – 21 June 2014 (a date for your diaries!). With our sole intention of distributing this information as broadly as possible, organisations are encouraged to contact GCF to produce tailored, ‘personalised’ versions of this material. Alternatively PDF copies of all material can be downloaded from the GCF website.

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For information on any of the above or to find out more about the challenges the wild giraffe populations are facing – despite a common perception – and how you can help, visit the Giraffe Conservation Foundation’s website.

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Giraffe Conservation Foundation

The Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) is dedicated to a sustainable future for all giraffe populations in the wild. GCF is the only NGO in the world that concentrates solely on the conservation and management of giraffe in the wild throughout Africa.