Who doesn’t love giraffes? Their grace, their markings that are as unique as human fingerprints, their long, tough tongues that can extend a foot or longer to navigate sharp acacia thorns, and even their hair-covered “horns” (called ossicones) —all these traits are endearing.
So endearing, in fact, that zoos around the world set aside the longest day of the year every year to celebrate the world’s longest-necked animal.
Giraffes in Danger of Disappearing
Giraffes, with their long legs and necks swaying in a kind of slow-motion ballet, are regal and majestic. They are the tallest living land animal, with females reaching a height of 14 to 16 feet and males towering over us at 16 to 18 feet.
This enigmatic African animal has long had a secret: Recent genetic analysis suggests that the giraffe is not one, but four separate species: the southern giraffe, found mainly in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana; the Masai giraffe, of Tanzania, Kenya and Zambia; the reticulated giraffe, found mainly in Kenya, Somalia and southern Ethiopia; and the northern giraffe in scattered groups in the north central and northeastern parts of Africa.
All of these giraffe species have one important thing in common. They are all threatened with extinction and must be protected, with special attention paid to the northern and reticulated giraffe species, each with fewer than 10,000 individuals.
Giraffes are already extinct in seven African countries, and the total number of giraffes in the wild has dropped from more than 140,000 in the late 1990s to fewer than 100,000 today.
Why this decline? Habitat loss due to war, road-building, oil drilling, mining and agriculture have caused the loss of this species. In addition, in some areas giraffes are threatened by hunting and intense bush meat poaching.
They are killed for their tails, which are used for marriage dowries, and their leg bones, which are carved to look like ivory. Some Tanzanians are convinced that eating giraffe brains and bone marrow can cure HIV/Aids.
Your Zoo Cares About Giraffes in Africa
The Saint Louis Zoo has been working to save threatened species in the wild through its Wild Care Institute Center for Conservation in the Horn of Africa, which supports field conservation of reticulated giraffes and other species in northern Kenya through the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT). NRT is a community-led, nongovernmental organization established 13 years ago by a coalition of local leaders, politicians and conservation interests. Its mission is to develop resilient community conservancies, which transform lives, secure peace and conserve natural resources. read more…